You meticulously go through your garage, basement and kitchen when you’re spring cleaning, but what about your medicine cabinet?
It’s the part of the home your family turns to when they’re sick – your best bet is to make sure you’re in the habit of giving your medicine cabinet a thorough cleaning each year.
“The one place that’s often neglected is the medicine cabinet. Yet it’s important because it affects your household’s health and hygiene overall,” Victor Wong, a Canadian pharmacist and owner of two Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacies, told Global News.
Wong and Phil Emberly of the Canadian Pharmacists Association, walked Global News through how to tidy up your medicine cabinet.
Start with expiry dates
This is an obvious first step – look at expiry dates and get rid of any medication that’s passed the best before date.
“A lot of people think medication is safe after its expiry. The answer is, it’s not dangerous, but we don’t know if it’s as effective or not, and how quickly it can help a person get past feeling sick,” Wong explained.
Also, pay attention to when a product was first opened. It may not have expired, but it could have been exposed to heat, moisture or other elements. If it’s a lotion or ointment, it could have germs. Eye drops, for example, are supposed to stay sterile but may not after years stashed away.
“Once opened, the shelf life for medicine starts to deteriorate much faster than what’s on the expiry. The rule of thumb, once it’s opened, is that it can usually last a year before it should be discarded,” Wong suggested.
When you open medication, mark the expiry date but also note the month and year you opened it on the packaging so you can keep track.
Even if medication hasn’t been sitting around for a year, check the contents in case pills have changed colour, or ointments have turned runny. This applies to Band-Aids, too. Some have built-in disinfectants and other antibiotic creams worked into them.
Get rid of outdated, unused prescription meds…
You may be guilty of hanging onto prescription painkillers or leftover antibiotics that you were supposed to finish. Remove these items from your medicine cabinet, Emberly said.
“A lot of Canadians, when they get prescription drugs, they don’t always finish them off so there’s leftovers in the house but not being in use,” he explained.
Hanging on to to unused drugs could be risky: they could be used to self-medicate, be accidentally taken, or they could fall into the hands of your kids. Antibiotics, painkillers, stimulants – like ADHD drugs and anti-depressants, are the most commonly prescribed medications that Canadians tend to keep. Antibiotics that you were prescribed may not even help to treat another type of infection.
“Having that sitting around is asking for trouble in many ways,” Emberly said.
…But make sure you dispose of them properly
Don’t flush your leftover drugs down the toilet or throw them in the trash. The best thing you can do is return unused medication – opened or unopened – to your nearest pharmacy where they’ll dispose of medication in an environmentally-friendly way.
Each year, over two tonnes of unused meds are turned in.
“It’s incinerated but done in a way that won’t hurt our waterways, our wildlife or our landfills. It’s environmentally sound. It doesn’t cost anything to bring it back to the pharmacy,” Emberly said.
Restock the essentials
Now that you’ve purged your medicine cabinet of the bad, it’s time to replenish with what your family needs.
“These are the types of items that you don’t want to run out to the drugstore in a panic to get. You want them on hand to treat immediately,” Wong said.
- Acetaminophen and ibuprohen (Tylenol and Advil) for headaches, aches, pain and fever
- Medication for diarrhea and motion sickness, such as Imodium and Gravol
- Antibiotic ointments for cuts and burns, such as Polysporin
- Bandages and gauze of different sizes to take care of accidental cuts and scrapes
- Antihistamines for allergies, such as Allegra
- A First Aid kit
Keep in mind that households may have different age groups. Kids under six shouldn’t be taking any medication (unless it’s cough and cold drugs) without consent from a doctor, while kids from six to 11 can take children’s medication. By 12 years old, kids can use adult medication but keep an eye on dosages.
If your family has a member with severe allergies, make sure you have an EpiPen at the ready, too.
If you have seniors in the household, it’s worthwhile to make sure their medical supplies and devices, such as tools to check blood glucose levels or blood pressure, are up to date. Check thermometers and other machines to make sure they’re functioning well and don’t need a fresh set of batteries.
Reorganize according to your family’s preferences
Your final step is to consider how to organize your medicine cabinet and where to store it. Your family may have parents, young kids, teenagers and grandparents.
“One tip is to have a different shelf for each family member instead of having it all in a pile. They can mix up so avoid confusion and prevent mistakes,” Wong said.
You might even have to put a childproof latch or lock on the cabinet so little ones don’t get their hands on medication.
Most people also store their medicine cabinet in the washroom, but the experts say this is a bad idea. Your bathroom gets humid and hot from showers and baths – this rapidly deteriorates medication as moisture seeps into the bottles.
“You want to keep it in a cool, dry place away from moisture and sunlight,” Emberly said.
This could be a bedroom or in the kitchen cupboards, for example.
While some people think it’s wise to store medication in the fridge, this isn’t true either, Wong said. This could degrade medication and should only be done if the storage instructions tell you to do so.