Is it time for a medicine cabinet makeover?

Jan. 15, 2018


An older woman with glasses reads prescription medication labels.If your medicine cabinet feels stuffed with half-used tubes of ointment and near-empty pill bottles, it’s probably time for an update.

Anne Lowe, clinical pharmacist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, gives tips for maintaining a useful medicine cabinet below.

(*Please note that examples of medications are listed, but less expensive generics are often also available).


It’s easier to make sure medicines are up-to-date and out of the way of children when there aren’t dozens of them.

“Keep it simple, and then you can keep it safe,” Lowe said.

If you take regular medication for a health condition, be sure to avoid any drugs that cause an adverse effect or drug interaction. Have questions? Ask your pharmacist.

Pain and Fever

Acetaminophen, aspirin and an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen are good standbys for pain and fever. If there are children in the house, be sure to have child-strength formulas on hand; some medications, such as aspirin, are not intended for kids.

Skin ointments

An antibiotic ointment for the skin is helpful for minor cuts and skin irritations. Lowe recommends Polysporin* or bacitracin. Hydrocortisone can be used to relieve itching or bug bites, but use it sparingly.

Stomach and intestinal issues

Pepcid* and Prilosec* help decrease stomach acid to address mild stomach upset, TUMS* can provide temporary relief for indigestion, while Pepto-Bismol* can be helpful for nausea, heartburn and other symptoms. A stool softener, such as Colace* or MiraLAX*, may also be useful to have on hand.

Lowe does not recommend treating mild diarrhea. “Diarrhea is your body’s natural mechanism to clear out the infection or whatever is going on,” she said. Just make sure to stay hydrated and to replenish your electrolytes.


If you feel a sore throat coming on, gargling with a simple saltwater solution may help, while a saline nasal spray can be beneficial for congestion and other cold symptoms.


An antihistamine can help address allergy symptoms such as sneezing and itchy, watery eyes. Zyrtec* and Claritin* work well for seasonal allergies. Benadryl* is another option, but can make you drowsy.


While a decongestant such as Sudafed* can help drain mucus from your nasal passages, be careful not to take it at night as it can make it harder to sleep.

Cough Medicine

There are two main types of cough medicines – expectorants like Mucinex*, which loosen up mucus and make your cough more productive, and cough suppressants, which can help address a dry, hacky cough. Avoid suppressing a productive cough, as it helps your body clear the infection.

For children over the age of one, a honey cough syrup can be helpful. Lowe also recommends using a cold mist humidifier to add moisture to the air and ease coughing.

Miscellaneous Supplies

A thermometer, tweezers, cold and warm compresses and bandages are all useful to keep on hand. Stock your pantry with a few sick-day staples such as canned chicken noodle soup, crackers and an electrolyte drink such as Pedialyte*.

“When you’re really sick, you don’t want to go anywhere, and you shouldn’t – you should stay home and rest,” Lowe said. “Keeping soup, crackers and juices on hand can help you avoid a trip to the grocery store.”

Maintaining your medicine cabinet makes it easier to handle the inevitable sick day. Just don’t forget Lowe’s top recommendations for most ailments: rest and hydration.

“A lot of people immediately go for the medicine cabinet at the slightest sniffle,” Lowe said. “But often when illness comes up, the best thing is rest and plenty of fluids to help your body’s own defenses work.”

This article first appeared in the Steamboat Pilot & Today on Jan. 1, 2018. 

Have expired medications that need to be properly disposed? Learn more about National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.

About the author

Susan Cunningham lives in the Colorado Rocky Mountains with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys science nearly as much as writing: she’s traveled to the bottom of the ocean via submarine to observe life at hydrothermal vents, camped out on an island of birds to study tern behavior, and now spends time in an office writing and analyzing data. She blogs about writing and science at