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Guide to Stocking Your Medicine Cabinet

Andrew McCaul

Overview

For all the scrapes and bruises  -- not to mention fevers and stuffy noses  -- that your child will get, it's a good idea to keep your medicine cabinet well stocked. Here's what you need to know  -- from how to store stuff to using your medications and supplies correctly.

Where to store medicine

Not the bathroom. Storing over-the-counter and prescription medicine near sources of moisture or heat, such as in the bathroom or kitchen, can cause pills and liquid medicines to lose potency or, in rare cases, become toxic. The best spot: A high shelf in a linen or bedroom closet  -- it's a more stable environment that's out of the reach of children.

What you need

A tube of antibiotic ointment for cuts and scrapes. If the tube touches an infected cut (especially one that's full of pus), toss it and buy a new one.

A box of alcohol wipes. They're much safer to have around than a bottle of rubbing alcohol, which is poisonous if swallowed. Use them to clean thermometers and the skin around wounds (stick to soap and water on open cuts, since alcohol hurts).

An anti-itch topical cortisone cream for rashes. Don't get it near the eyes (it's best to avoid the face entirely). And never apply to a baby  -- he might lick it off.

A digital thermometer. Babies especially need a rectal reading, which is the most accurate. Once your child is around 4, it's fine to switch to oral. (Oral thermometers can often also be used under the arm for kids over 3 months who won't sit still for a rectal reading, but aren't ready to hold a thermometer in the mouth.)

Petroleum jelly or K-Y Jelly to lubricate a rectal thermometer.

Acetaminophen. Make sure it's infant-strength for babies under 35 pounds. And be careful to avoid giving more than is recommended (especially with infant drops, which are more concentrated), as even a small overdose may damage the liver.

Ibuprofen for children over 6 months only. Make sure it's infant-strength for babies under 35 pounds.

Saline nose drops (non-medicated), which are helpful for clearing a baby's nose.

A nasal aspirator (or bulb syringe), in case nose drops don't work. But don't overdo it, since the inside of a baby's nose is particularly sensitive.

Cough and cold medicine. It's best to keep separate medications for each symptom so you don't inadvertently double-dose your child on any active ingredients. But always talk to your pediatrician before giving your child cough or cold medication, especially for children under 3 years.

Seasonal allergy medication, if needed.

An oral rehydration solution, like Pedialyte. You'll have less waste with the single-serve size.

Teething gel. Be sure to stick to the recommended dosage.

Simethicone drops for gas.

Sterile cotton balls to clean your baby's eyes.

Cotton swabs.

Tweezers for removing splinters and ticks.

Adhesive bandages in assorted sizes. Keep a close eye on your child, as the small bandages can be a choking hazard.

What you can skip

Syrup of ipecac. The American Academy of Pediatrics no longer recommends it for poisonings. See "In case of poisoning," below.

Baby or children's aspirin, which are now known to cause Reye's syndrome, a serious disease. The same is true of products containing aspirin, such as Pepto-Bismol (or generic equivalents), topical ointments like Bengay, and certain wart removers.

A mercury thermometer. It's an environmental and health hazard if it breaks, so give it to your doctor to toss. Check Grandma's house, too.

An ear thermometer. They seem easy to use, but they're not accurate.

When to toss medications

By law, an over-the-counter medication must have an expiration date based on when it may have only 90 percent of its original potency. Check your medicine cabinet periodically, and discard pills in the toilet (not the bathroom trash can); pour liquids down the drain.What to throw out:

* Any expired prescription drug (especially antibiotics  -- some may be ineffective or even unsafe)

* Expired asthma medication

* Any medicine that has changed color or developed a "funny" smell

Other products that may simply not work as well after their expiration dates:

* Painkillers, decongestants, cough suppressants, and other OTC medicines won't be dangerous, but they may be slightly less potent.

* Sunscreen should not be kept longer than three years (it can lose its effectiveness even earlier if regularly exposed to extreme heat).

* Antibacterial bandages may no longer fight bacteria (but they'll still protect a cut).

In case of poisoning

If your child swallows medication accidentally:

* Stay calm.

* Don't administer anything or try to induce vomiting.

* Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately if your child is unconscious, has stopped breathing, or is having a seizure.

* Call Poison Control if your child is not in distress: 800-222-1222, day or night. You'll automatically be connected to your local center.

* Tell the center what's happened. Give your child's age and weight, any preexisting medical conditions, the time the incident occurred, exactly what your child took, and any unusual symptoms.

* Be sure you understand exactly what you are being told to do.

Summary

Having the right medicines and supplies on hand for scrapes or fevers is an important health measure. But you also need to make sure you regularly check any drugs and supplies you use to make sure they're still safe to use  -- so you can help your child feel better fast.


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