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Spring Cleaning Your Medicine Cabinet

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Dr. Mallika Marshall, WBZ-TV Medical Reporter Dr. Mallika Marshall
Dr. Mallika Marshall is WBZ-TV News’ Medical Reporter and contributes...
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BOSTON (CBS) – When you think spring cleaning, most think about cleaning out their closets, washing the windows or scrubbing the floors.

Add cleaning out your medicine cabinet to that list.

“I think it’s a good idea if people look in their medicine cabinets at least once a year,” Dr. Nancy Keating, a primary care physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told WBZ-TV

She says for years, we’ve been telling people to get rid of any expired medications.

It turns out, they may be good past their expiration date.

“Most drugs actually are stable and able to be used especially if they’ve been stored in dry and dark conditions, for up to several years at least,” she said.

“One notable exception is an EpiPen for allergies. That really does need to be replaced every year.”

Dr. Keating said you should get rid of any unused narcotics or antibiotics that could be harmful to anyone else who takes them.

And if you have to get rid of a medication, don’t dump it down the toilet.

“If we put too many medicines in the toilet, these medicines can actually seep into the ground supply and the water supply,” said Dr. Keating.

Instead, take them to a drug disposal site. Check with your particular town to find out where.

So what should you always keep in your medicine cabinet – just in case.

Dr. Keating said, first thing, a thermometer.

And if you have a fever, or pain, take a fever reducer, like acetaminophen, found in Tylenol or ibuprofen which has an added advantage.

“If you sprain your ankle or get a big bruise, it can actually take care of the inflammation and help that,” said Dr. Keating.

So many people are suffering from allergies these days.

“Antihistamines like diphenhydramine, which is the active ingredient in Benadryl can be really useful. The challenge here is that it can be sedating,” Dr. Keating said.

But there are non-sedating options like Loratadine or Claritin, which are found over the counter.

Afrin nasal spray can also help with nasal congestion but…

“You can’t take it for more than 3 or 4 days or you can actually get a rebound effect from that,” said Dr. Keating, which can make nasal congestion worse.

You should also have tweezers in your medicine cabinet.

“You can use them to remove splinters, you can use them to remove ticks.”

And if you or your child gets a boo-boo, clean it with soap and water, and depending on where it is, cover it with a bandage.

“Not all cuts need to be covered but particularly cuts that are in areas that might be hard to keep clean, actually the bandage, I think, does more to help keep the dirt out.

What about mosquito bites, eczema, or other itchy rashes?

Have some hydrocortisone cream on hand.

And for an upset stomach, consider an anti-diarrheal or antacids for occasional heartburn, but…

“If you have high fevers and abdominal pain, you should probably call your doctor before you do too much doctoring at home,” said Dr. Keating.

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