Medicine Cabinet Essentials…That Aren’t Medicine

portrait of a smiling urban woman outdoors(BlackDoctor.org) — Whether it’s a common cut or something scarier like chest pains, you need the right items to handle a medical emergency. But some of the things you need have nothing to do with pills, syrups or creams.

“People either have no first-aid kit, or the materials are insufficient or expired,” says Manoj Singh, M.D., assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in Ohio.

Just as important: You need to be able to find them quickly. That’s why experts advise that you keep emergency supplies in one place: either in a traditional first-aid kit or a designated medicine cabinet.

Here are the top five non-medicinal items that medical experts say should be within reach in any healthy home. They’re available at your local drugstore…and don’t require a prescription.

1. Plain bar or hand soap.

This may seem obvious, but the old-fashioned soap-and-water combo is still the best way to clean minor cuts and scrapes.

“Rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide and witch hazel all damage your skin, and they don’t clean wounds any better,” says Joanne Watson, M.D., a family physician at Patient First near Baltimore, Md.

Here’s another eye-opener: Plain soap works just as well as antibacterial soap, Watson says. (Plus, it may be safer – the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] is currently reviewing the safety of triclosan, the active ingredient in many antibacterial soaps, after concerns it might alter hormones or cause antibiotic-resistant bacteria.)

2. An assortment of plain adhesive bandages/Band-Aids.

For minor injuries, the simpler, the better.

“The wound just needs to be clean, so there’s no need for antibiotic-impregnated or other fancy bandages,” Watson says.

Make sure you have a variety of sizes to handle various wounds, and stockpile gauze pads and paper tape (for securing the pads). On larger wounds, a pad will cover, protect and absorb any drainage from it.

3. An elastic wrap.

Also called an ACE bandage (based on the best-known brand name), “these are excellent for giving support to a sprained joint,” says Jennifer Zimmer, M.D., an internal medicine specialist at the Baylor Regional Medical Center in Plano, Texas.

Just be sure to apply the wrap correctly: If wrapping a foot or ankle, start at the bottom of the foot and wrap it several times around until you reach the ankle, then criss-cross the bandage in a figure-8 pattern behind the heel and secure it at top with some tape.

If it’s too loose, it won’t supply helpful compression; if it’s too tight, it can restrict circulation. (Remove it if the body part feels numb or tingly, gets cold or turns blue.) If you aren’t sure, ask your doctor.

(For minor sprains, also keep an ice pack in your freezer and remember the acronym “RICE”: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.)

4. An accurate thermometer.

You need a good thermometer to monitor fevers, which could indicate infection in a wound or worsening of any illness, Zimmer says.

She recommends digital thermometers because they’re easier to read than ones with mercury. And toss ear thermometers and fever strips – they aren’t as precise.

Remember, it’s not a fever until body temperature goes above 100.5°.

“Everyone thinks that any temperature above 98.6° is a fever,” Watson says. “Some schools send kids home when they have a temperature of 99°, which is perfectly normal.”

5. Emergency contact phone numbers.

In case of a medical emergency, tape the contact information for your doctor, pharmacy and the local Poison Control Center (for ingestion of or exposure to toxins) to the inside of your medicine cabinet or first-aid kit.

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