12 Things Pharmacists Keep in Their Medicine Cabinet

Are you ready for the minor—and not-so-minor—home medical emergencies? Learn what pharmacists keep on hand.

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Be prepared

Illnesses and (minor) injuries happen. Feeling better fast means staying at the ready with over-the-counter medications for digestive woes, fevers, aches, and pains, as well as common first aid supplies. Here’s what you need to keep stocked in your home.

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Pain meds that you can count on

These are likely in your cabinet already, but are important staples. “Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are staples in our house,” explains Mary Bridgeman, PharmD, BCPS, BCGP, clinical associate professor at the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey.

Save money with generic versions like this Basic Care acetaminophen and this Kirkland ibuprofen.

Although these meds may be over the counter, Bridgeman cautions that people should still be wary for these reasons:

  • Avoid ibuprofen if you have kidney problems or stomach ulcers
  • Monitor acetaminophen usage as it can cause liver damage.
  • Follow proper dosage for age and weight when administering to children.
  • Be aware that adult products are likely not suitable for children.
  • Double-check with a doctor or pharmacist first if you have any questions.

Here are the best pain relievers for every type of ache as well as the hidden dangers of over-the-counter pain relievers.

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Don’t feel the burn

Heartburn is a common complaint with easy remedies. Bridgeman recommends Tums or Rolaids: They contain calcium and can help alleviate that burning sensation. However, if you need faster relief she suggests a liquid, since they do not need to be broken down like a tablet or capsule. Try Mylanta or Equate, which contain the gas-relieving ingredient simethicone.

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Spring fever

If you have allergies, intranasal steroids like Flonase or Nasacort are Bridgeman’s go-to meds. “They’re shown to have fewer adverse side effects compared with an oral antihistamine or other products for allergies. However, selecting the best allergy-relief medication is based on the patient and the symptoms. A doctor or pharmacist can help guide in the decision-making process,” she says. Learn the reasons your pharmacist knows more about your health than your doctor.

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Stifle that cough

The type of cough you have will determine how you should treat it, says Bridgeman. “Cough medicines containing guaifenesin can be used to help bring up mucus and loosen phlegm,” explains Bridgeman. “Medicines containing dextromethorphan are best for a dry, non-productive cough to help suppress the cough reflex.” Some options include Robitussin and Nyquil.

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First aid to the rescue

For basic injuries, you’ll need a few things: “Alcohol, triple-antibiotic ointment, Band-Aids, and topical anti-itch creams containing hydrocortisone are must-haves for those minor cuts, scrapes, and bites that happen periodically,” notes Bridgeman.

And take note, says Bridgeman: Unlike tablet and pill medications, these basic first aid supplies can go in your bathroom medicine cabinet. “Temperature swings and humidity can influence the integrity of tablets and pill. They are best kept in a cool, dry place out of the reach of children. A kitchen cabinet works well,” she says. Find out the secrets your pharmacist isn’t telling you.

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Banish belly troubles

Well-known for its familiar pink color, Pepto-Bismol can alleviate a variety of stomach ailments—keep it at the ready. For kids younger than 12, consult with a doctor first before giving them Pepto-Bismol. If your kids have diarrhea, oral rehydration solutions like Pedialyte can help replace fluids and nutrients while you wait for their tummy time to settle.

Stay away from sports drinks to rehydrate. “Many people with diarrhea might reach for an electrolyte-containing sports drink, but these contain sugar and carbohydrates that can actually exacerbate diarrhea by causing an osmotic effect which draws fluid into the intestines,” says Bridgeman. “Oral rehydration solutions contain the electrolytes without the extra sugar, which makes them desirable for preventing dehydration.”

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Can’t stop sniffling

You don’t have to suffer from a runny nose and clogged sinuses. Bridgeman likes starting with an all-natural option: “Keep intranasal saline on-hand, a salt solution that can alleviate nasal congestion and doesn’t cause side effects,” she says. She also likes the saline rinse for nasal allergy symptoms, as well.

Bridgeman is also a fan of nasal strips, like Breathe Right, which physically open up nasal passages and provide relief from congestion, without drugs.

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Say yes to supplements?

There are tons of vitamins on the market. Before spending your hard-earned cash, consult with your doctor about your potential needs. Supplements, in general, are not beneficial unless you are deficient in certain nutrients. Marianne Corso, RPh, at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, New Jersey, recommends taking a B Complex and vitamin D each day. “For vitamin D, I take D3 in 5000 units, and I feel both are good replacements for a multi-vitamin.” These are the vitamins and supplements nutritionists never take.

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Feel like you’re catching a cold

If you feel like a bug’s coming on, consider popping some Airborne to be safe. “I like having Airborne at the ready,” says Corso. “It’s good to take if you start to feel a little run down or feel like you are coming down with a cold. It’s a vitamin boost.”

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Don’t scratch that itch

When fungal infections like athlete’s foot, jock itch, ringworm, and vaginal yeast infections have you at your wits end, be ready: “There are a number of different formulations (powders, creams, sprays) that contain anti-fungal medications that can be used for treating these conditions if they arise,” explains Bridgeman.

For athlete’s foot, you could try Lotrimin; for vaginal yeast infections, consider Monistat. Important: Be sure to you complete the total time for treatment that’s indicated on the product’s packaging, or your infection will come roaring back.

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solimo gel
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Too much fun in the sun

Were you having such a good time at the beach, pool, or baseball game that you forgot to reapply your sunscreen? To soothe redness and discomfort, apply a product containing aloe vera to help relieve topical symptoms. However, if you have a particularly bad burn, Bridgeman recommends getting a preparation that contains lidocaine—Solimo Sunburn Relief Gel, for example—for an additional cooling effect. Learn which sunscreens dermatologists use themselves.

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Tools of the trade

Putting your cheek to your little one’s forehead might be a trick for telling if your child has a fever, but a more accurate tool is the trusty thermometer. The newer digital models are inexpensive and reliable. This 10-second model from Mosen is well-reviewed and an Amazon best-seller. Fun fact: did you know Amazon actually has a prescription plan called Amazon Rx?

Tweezers can come in handy too—beyond plucking eyebrows. You can tackle splinters and ticks with a good pair. Lastly, make sure you keep a complete first aid kit around the house stocked with these must-have items.

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  • Mary Bridgeman, PharmD, BCPS, BCGP, clinical associate professor at the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey in Piscataway
  • DailyMed: “Pepto-Bismol- bismuth subsalicylate.”
  • Marianne Corso, RPh at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, NJ
Medically reviewed by Kristyn Williamson, PharmD, BCACP, on March 18, 2021