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Medicines to Keep at Home

Contributions by Dr Jan Sambrook, others. This document is a mix of information from different docs.
Minor illness and mild aches or pains are common. It is useful to keep a few medicines at home in case
you need something when you can't get to a pharmacy. Always read the labels carefully and follow the
instructions, and store the medicines out of the reach of children. Your pharmacist is a good person to
give you more information about over-the-counter medicines which do not need a prescription from
your doctor. See your doctor if your symptoms get worse or do not go away.
Minor illness is common, especially in young children. Symptoms often begin when pharmacies are
closed. Here are some suggestions of medicines that are useful to keep at home just in case they are
needed.

Note:
 Before taking a medicine, always read the packet label and the leaflet inside the packet. This is for
instructions on how to take the medicine and on who should not take the medicine, and for a list of
possible side-effects.
 Remember, children will need a different dose from adults, and a different dose depending on their
age. Therefore, always check the label for the correct dose.
 Keep all medicines out of the reach of children.

You can buy the following, without a prescription, from pharmacies:

Paracetamol
Paracetamol eases pain. It also reduces high temperature (fever). It comes in tablet form for adults and
older children and as a liquid for young children and babies. You can also obtain soluble tablets and
melt-in-the-mouth tablets. If you have young children, paracetamol is perhaps the most important
medicine to keep in at all times. Paracetamol is safe at normal doses but is harmful if you take too
much (overdose). Therefore, it is extremely important to check the right dose for the person taking
paracetamol. Be careful not to exceed the maximum amount recommended on the packet.

Anti-inflammatory painkillers
These are painkillers which also reduce inflammation. Most need a prescription but you can buy
ibuprofen from pharmacies and supermarkets. This is helpful for muscular aches and sprains and can
be used to relieve period pain. Like paracetamol, ibuprofen also reduces a fever. Ibuprofen also comes
in tablet, soluble tablet, melt-in-the-mouth and liquid forms. There are many brands of ibuprofen. The
dose advised varies with age.
Anti-inflammatory painkillers should not be used by certain people - for example, if you have, or have
had, a stomach or duodenal ulcer. These painkillers should be taken with food if possible, because they
can cause irritation if taken on an empty stomach. If you develop stomach pain or heartburn after
taking ibuprofen tablets, you should stop them. They may interact with some prescribed medication,
so check with your pharmacist if you are not sure whether you should take them.
Ibuprofen and some other anti-inflammatory painkillers are also available as a gel or foam. These can
be rubbed directly into the painful area. They are used for painful joints if you have rheumatoid
arthritis or degenerative arthritis (osteoarthritis). They can also be used for sprains and muscle injuries.

Antihistamines
These ease the symptoms of hay fever and other allergies - for example, hives (urticaria), itch,
sneezing, watering eyes, and a runny nose. They can be used to reduce the pain and swelling from
wasp or bee stings.
Some antihistamines may cause drowsiness - for example, chlorphenamine (Piriton®). These may be
useful for taking at bedtime, particularly for itchy conditions such as eczema or chickenpox. There are
several types which cause less drowsiness and are better for during the day - for example, loratadine
and cetirizine.
Antihistamine can also be bought as a cream, which can be rubbed on to stings and bites.

Antacids
These help to ease indigestion and heartburn. There are various types of antacids - for example,
sodium bicarbonate, magnesium trisilicate, aluminium or magnesium hydroxide. They work by
neutralising the acid content of the stomach. You can also buy more powerful medicines which reduce
acid in the stomach - for example, ranitidine and esomeprazole.
If you need to use antacids on a regular basis, you should see your doctor to discuss this.

Hydrocortisone cream
Hydrocortisone cream is a mild steroid cream. Steroids reduce inflammation. Hydrocortisone can be
bought in pharmacies, to treat inflammation of the skin (dermatitis), insect stings and eczema.
Hydrocortisone cream should not be used on the face unless prescribed by your doctor specifically for
use on the face.
If you have itching or dryness of the skin it may just need some emollient cream such as E45®. It is
useful to soothe dry or itchy skin.

Antiseptic cream
It is useful to have an antiseptic cream at home. If you use this on minor scrapes, cuts and bites, they
are less likely to become infected. Commonly available antiseptic creams include Savlon® and
Germolene®.

Other useful items


If anyone in your family is prone to mouth soreness or mouth ulcers it is a good idea to keep something
to help with that such as Bonjela®.
It is worth keeping a variety of plasters at home in case of minor cuts and grazes. Use hypo-allergenic
ones if anyone in your house gets a rash with plasters.
You may also find thin adhesive strips such as Steri-strips® useful for cuts if you are able to use them.
These pull the edges of a wound together. (If a cut does not stop bleeding after you have applied
pressure and a plaster or Steri-strips®, you should attend your local Accident and Emergency
Department. Continue to press on the cut until you get there to limit the bleeding.)
A pair of tweezers may be handy for extracting splinters.
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Pack to prevent Zika
If you are traveling to an area with Zika, you can pack a few items in your travel health kit to protect
yourself and your family. Your kit should include items that will reduce your risk of getting Zika.
Reducing the risk of Zika is particularly important for pregnant women.
Your kit should include:
 Insect repellent (Look for these ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, OLE or PMD, or 2-
undecanone.)
 Long-sleeved shirts and long pants
 Clothing and gear treated with permethrin
 Infant carrier mosquito net (if needed)
 Bed net (if mosquitoes can get to where you’re sleeping)
 Condoms (if you might have sex)
 Copies of your passport and travel documents. Place a copy of your passport and travel documents
in each piece of luggage, in case you lose the original documents. Don’t forget to leave a copy with
a friend or relative at home.
 Items that might go in your travel health kit.
Check the Transportation Security Administration website for updates on permitted and prohibited
items, including medicines that you are allowed to carry onto an airplane.
Some items may not be allowed in other countries. It is a good idea to check the Customs and Import
Restrictions section of the U.S. Department of State Tips for Traveling Abroad.

What to Pack in Your Travel Health Kit


Use this list to help you think of things to pack in your travel health kit. Be sure to think about where
you are going and whether you will have access to health items and supplies.

Medicines
Special note about prescription medicines
 Pack your prescription medications in your carry-on luggage.
 Pack copies of all prescriptions, including the generic names for medications.
 Pack a note on letterhead stationery from the prescribing physician for controlled substances and
injectable medications.
 Leave a copy of your prescriptions at home with a friend or relative.
 Check with the American Embassy or Consulate to make sure that your medicines will be allowed
into the country you are visiting. Some countries do not let visitors bring certain medicines into the
country.
 Prescription medicines you usually take
o If you have a severe allergy and epinephrine has been prescribed by your doctor, bring your
Epinephrine auto-injector (for example, an EpiPen).
 Special prescriptions for the trip
o Medicines to prevent malaria, if needed
o Antibiotic prescribed by your doctor for self-treatment of moderate to severe diarrhea
 Over-the-counter medicines
o Antidiarrheal medication (for example, bismuth subsalicylate, loperamide)
o Antihistamine
o Decongestant, alone or in combination with antihistamine
o Anti-motion sickness medication
o Medicine for pain or fever (such as acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen)
o Mild laxative
o Cough suppressant/expectorant
o Cough drops
o Antacid
o Antifungal and antibacterial ointments or creams
o 1% hydrocortisone cream

Other items that may be useful in certain circumstances


o Supplies to prevent illness or injury
 Insect repellent containing DEET (30%-50%) or picaridin (up to 15%)
 Sunscreen (preferably SPF 15 or greater) that has both UVA and UVB protection
 Antibacterial hand wipes or alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol
 Lubricating eye drops
o First-aid supplies
 First aid quick reference card
 Basic first-aid items (bandages, gauze, ace bandage, antiseptic, tweezers, scissors, cotton-
tipped applicators)
 Moleskin for blisters
 Aloe gel for sunburns
 Digital thermometer
 Oral rehydration solution packets
o Health insurance card (either your regular plan or supplemental travel health insurance plan)
and copies of claim forms
o Mild sedative or other sleep aid
o Medicine to prevent altitude sickness
o Water purification tablets
o Commercial suture/syringe kits to be used by local health-care provider. (These items will also
require a letter on letterhead stationery from the prescribing physician.)
o Latex condoms
o Child safety seats
o Bicycle helmet

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Below is a list of the best OTC medications that we take with us without fail. Obviously, if you have a
specific medical condition or problem, you should take any normal medication with you that you might
otherwise need at home, such as allergy or asthma drugs.

1. Ibuprofen. Otherwise known as Advil or Motrin. This is my number one go to medication for any kind
of pain. When I was in the Navy, this was what they gave for everything under the sun, from toothache
to herpes. The reason that I choose ibuprofen over acetaminophen is that you can actually poison
yourself very easily by taking too much acetaminophen. It is a common pain reliever in hospitals, and if
you have already loaded up on it, have to go to the hospital, and then cannot speak the language, you
might get more, which could kill you. This is possible with any medication including ibuprofen, but it is
actually more likely with acetaminophen.

2. Phillips Milk of Magnesia (in tablet form). As I mentioned before, I tend to have a weak stomach, and
one of my problems when traveling is to become stopped up. My first visit to a hospital overseas
(Taiwan) involved this problem. To head off this situation in subsequent trips, I have tried many types
of laxatives over the years and have found Phillips Milk of Magnesia to be the most mild and highly
recommend it.

3. Imodium. The other end of the spectrum and a problem I am also very familiar with, although I do
not want to go into these multiple events at all (Egypt, Bali, Huangshan, etc.), involves not being
stopped up enough. Hands down, Imodium is the best choice for this and I absolutely do not travel
without it.

4. Benadryl. Even if you do not have any known allergies, I would recommend bringing along a few
tablets or capsules of Benadryl. A few years ago, Sara was having lunch at a local sushi restaurant and
suddenly developed a splitting headache. She was able to drive herself home, but determined that she
was having an allergic reaction to something. She took some Benadryl and was eventually ok, but after
some extensive testing, the doctor found she was allergic to tuna. She had eaten tuna hundreds of
times before. He also said that if she had not taken the Benadryl, she might have died. She now carries
an Epipen with her everywhere, but the Benadryl is what made the initial difference.

5. Sudafed (single-action pseudoephedrine). This can be a lifesaver for the sinus headache. However, it
can also be useful if you are going to be flying or SCUBA diving and your nasal passages are stopped up.
The pressure changes associated with both flying and diving can play havoc with your sinuses and
Sudafed usually can bring fairly quick relief. This can be the difference between actually diving and
sitting on the boat helping people on and off with their gear.

6. Pepcid AC. Another one for the weak stomach. Although, I personally rarely use this, Sara swears by
it as she gets extremely painful gastritus from time to time. This will bring relief within 10 or 15
minutes and can prevent a trip to the hospital. With all of the exotic foods out there that your body is
not used to, it is better to be safe than sorry.

7. A general daytime and nighttime multi-symptom cold medicine (combo pack). Although it is rarely
good to take too much medicine, or medicine for symptoms that you might not have, it is difficult to
pack for every instance. In this case, I like to carry along medicine that is designed to help with virtually
anything. I would try to steer clear of anything with acetaminophen in it for reasons listed earlier, but
something is often better than nothing. For this, go with something you have tried before and has
worked for you. The best product I have found is a version of Robitussin from Taiwan, and we try to
stock up whenever we visit.