Time to stock your medicine cabinet for the pandemic
By Ryan Prior, CNN
(CNN) -- It could be a cabinet behind your mirror, a kitchen drawer or a first aid kit you carry in a backpack or in the car.
Your medicine cabinet is your first go-to in times of illness, and sometimes it gets a little bare. But we're in the midst of a global health crisis. And whether you get Covid-19 or not, it's important to be prepared.
We know, we know. Some of these may be a little obvious, but go ahead and actually check your supplies now.
Let this be your friendly reminder to confirm you do, in fact, have the basics. If not, add these to your shopping list. Like now.
Here's a list of what you can use to make sure your household's medicine chest is well-stocked for the length of the pandemic.
Do you think you have Covid-19? A fully stocked medicine cabinet can help you make an initial assessment.
"There are certain signs and symptoms that tip people off to whether they have Covid-19," said Dr. Gary LeRoy, the president of the American Academy of Family Physicians and an associate professor of family medicine at Wright State Universityin Dayton, Ohio.
Thermometer: Early on in the pandemic, pharmacy shelves had been emptied in people's rush to buy thermometers and monitor possible fever symptoms.
But also know how to use the thermometer right: Timing is everything. Check your temperature first, before you take your pain or fever reducer. "These medicines artificially lower your temperature," LeRoy said. Once you know how bad your fever is, then take your medicine.
Doctors recommend using rectal thermometers for infants. For children and adults, a thermometer under the tongue works just fine.
More advanced no-contact infrared thermometers also have their virtues, especially by eliminating the need to physically touch a symptomatic person.
"Infrared thermometers are easy to use, but they are more expensive," LeRoy said.
Cough drops and cough syrup: These stalwarts of the home health arsenal are a good initial line of defense to help reduce the coughing symptoms that are a key indicator of Covid-19.
Acetaminophen: It helps reduce the muscle ache pains associated with Covid-19 and other viruses, as well as fevers (again, check your or your child's temperature first before administering this pain and fever reliever).
Ibuprofen: This anti-inflammatory is also great for reducing pain and fevers. Use with caution, though, if you have gastrointestinal issues such as acid reflux, LeRoy said.
Antidiarrheals: Diarrhea is a symptom of Covid-19, and if it happens, make sure to hydrate aggressively, as it causes you to lose fluids.
For all of these medications, make sure to read the labels carefully to ensure you take the right dosage.
The new additions everyone should have
Face masks or coverings: By now you should have a mask or a bandanna or scarf set aside to protect yourself when you're out and about. Keep your stock in your medicine cabinet and in handy places around the house, and also keep one in your car so you don't get caught out in public without one.
"You should also have extra masks for visitors to your house who don't have one," LeRoy said.
Make sure you've got a supply of face masks for your whole family. You might not be doing much flying this summer, but you can still keep in mind a familiar line from flight attendants: Put on your mask before assisting others. We mean this literally.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes: Read the labels and try to focus on products that contain a base of 60% or more of alcohol.
Latex gloves: You don't have to wear gloves if you're wiping down counters at home, but if you do, make sure you remove them properly.After you're done using them while cleaning or grocery shopping, remove them by sliding your finger in underneath their opening so you don't touch the exposed outer side with your bare hands.
Pulse oximeter (optional): Pulse oximeters are devices that measure the saturation of oxygen in the body's red blood cells.Early on in the pandemic, the devices were selling out everywhere. Doctor's offices use medical-grade pulse oximeters when monitoring patients with specific conditions, such as emphysema.
At home, experts say the average person doesn't necessarily need a fancy device to measure blood oxygen levels. If shortness of breath is an issue, call your doctor.
"If the question is, 'Would it be a good early indicator if somebody has Covid-19 infection?', I would say probably not," said Dr. J. Randall Curtis, a professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of Washington in an interview in April.
And a recent study by scientists at the University of Oxford showed that many smartphone apps purporting to measure blood oxygen saturation were unreliable.
"It is not physically possible to measure SpO2 (oxygen saturation levels) using current smartphone technology," the authors concluded.
More general items are still key in the pandemic
You ought to be keeping a supply of general health items at home, too.
Some of the symptoms of Covid-19 mirror those of other conditions, particularly allergies.
Prescriptions: The CDC reports that the average American takes at least one prescription medication. The agency recommends keeping a seven- to 10-day supply, and storing them in childproof containers.
Antihistamines: Spring and summer mark allergy season, so if your symptoms feel a little better when you're not outside, you could be suffering from allergies. If these antihistamines aren't clearing up coughing or congestion, that could be a sign that something else is causing your symptoms.
"If it's not getting better, don't just keep treating it," LeRoy said. "Talk to your doctor."
Decongestant: Congestion is a key feature of colds or the flu, and a decongestant is a cornerstone of any medicine cabinet. A stuffy nose is on the list of symptoms of Covid-19, too, although it's not the most common one. A report from the World Health Organization that analyzed the first 6,000 cases of Covid-19 in China noted that 5% of cases included nasal congestion.
Calamine lotion: It's a great standby if you're spending more time outdoors this summer and get exposed to poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac.
Adhesive bandages: They're just as good now as when Johnson & Johnson employee Earle Dickson invented Band-Aid strips in 1921 to help treat his wife's minor cuts in the kitchen. Any form of adhesive bandage or gauze pads will do.
Fine-tipped tweezers: These can help address a number of issues, notably in removing ticks. If you're outdoors this summer and notice a tick on a friend or your own skin, you can follow the CDC's guidelines, grasping the tick close the skin, and then pulling it off with steady, gentle pressure.
Check expiration dates and dispose of medicine properly
Use the pandemic as motivation for an overall inventory check. As you're updating your stockpile, it's a great time to get rid of medications or other products past their use-by date. Besides avoiding a stomach ache or other complications, you'll be able to make room for new remedies.
You need to dispose of old prescription drugs carefully. The US Environmental Protection Agency strongly discourages people from flushing prescription or over-the-counter drugs down the toilet or drain and into the waterways unless the product's label specifically says it's OK.
Unused or expired prescription drugs can best be safely discarded by handing them off at a drug take-back site, location or program, according to the US Food and Drug Administration.
To find a drop-off location in the United Sates, Google Maps offers a mobile-friendly way, directing you where to go. You can also type in your ZIP code through a Drug Enforcement Administration website to pull up a list of locations that will gladly take your leftover medicines.
Know when to seek care
Your home medicine cabinet is your first stop for routine scrapes or runny-nose symptoms. But it's no substitute for sound medical advice.
The contents of your medicine cabinet are a "tool, not a replacement for medical intervention or a conversation with your physician," LeRoy said.
During the pandemic, a large number of hospitals and doctor's offices are focusing on telehealth visits to help alleviate the need for in-person visits.
Pay close attention to how you're feeling. "Chart what those symptoms are and then treat those symptoms," LeRoy said.
But before any of this gets out of hand, fulfill this homework assignment for us.
Seriously, check your medicine cabinet.
Now add this to your to-do list: Replace those last few items that are missing. You'll be glad you did.
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