January is a great time to move out the old and make way for the
new, so it's the perfect time to get rid of old medications and
organize your medicine cabinet.
The first thing to clarify is that medication should not be kept
in a bathroom cabinet because the humidity can be damaging. Store
medicines in a cool, dry location safely out of reach of
Start your makeover by gathering all medications. Discard any
medicines that have expired or no longer needed. This includes
antibiotics, which may be toxic after their expiration date.
Discard any old cough and cold medications for children under 6 and
Ipecac syrup. These products are no longer recommended.
Don't throw medications down the toilet because they can get
into the water supply. Instead, remove pills or liquids from their
original container. Be sure to remove any personal identifying
information from prescription labels. Dump meds into a sealable
plastic bag filled with old coffee grounds or cat litter. This will
discourage animals from ingesting it. Add a little water so the
pills dissolve. Seal the bag and throw it in the garbage.
Another option is to use the National Prescription Take Back
Event, sponsored by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Check
with your pharmacist for information. Some medications, such as
powerful narcotics, are disposed of by flushing. This will be noted
on the label.
After you get rid of the old stuff, be sure you have some basic
supplies on hand. Here's what I recommend for every home:
Essential medications and supplies:
Ibuprofen (the active ingredient in Motrin and Advil) for pain,
fever or inflammation.
Acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) for fever or
pain (never give your child aspirin because of the risk of Reye's
Diphenhydramine (the active ingredient in Benadryl) for
congestion and mild allergic reactions.
Antibiotic ointment (like Neosporin) for minor scrapes.
A digital thermometer, Band-Aids (assorted sizes), tweezers,
small scissors, nail clippers, cotton swabs, Peroxide and
Hydrocortisone cream 1% for rashes.
An antacid (like Maalox or Tums).
Calamine lotion (for bites or stings and rashes from poison ivy,
It's helpful to write the use of each medication right on the
label with a Sharpie. I do this in my home with all medications
that come in tubes because it's easy to mix up the athlete's foot
cream with the anti-itch cream. Group the medications by use in
Inside the cabinet, post a list of emergency phone numbers, such
as poison control (1-800-222-1222), your pediatrician, pharmacist
Now you're prepared to tackle the bumps, bites and colds that
are a part of every normal childhood.
Dr. Lisa Thornton, a mother of three, is director of pediatric rehabilitation at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital and LaRabida Children’s Hospital. She also is assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago.
See more of Dr. Thornton's stories here.
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