What OTC medications should we have on hand?

What over the counter medications would be good to have in someone’s medicine cupboard to be ready for those random sicknesses, allergies, injuries, etc…

It’s good to have these ready so can take them ASAP and not have to run to the store when you aren’t feeling the best, and also having them on hand could mean you have some supplies if there was a shortage. But I just don’t know what the best ones to have would be. For example, there are so many types of pain medications in tablet or liquid gel form of varying strengths and more which is the best ones we should have?


  • Comments (9)

    • 4

      I’m no expert but have read a little and always seem to be the go-to guy for basic stuff—I don’t even look like a boy scout!

      • Use soap and clean water on cuts and burns (no alcohol, peroxide, betadine) I have a gallon of distilled just for flushing but tap water is OK —as long as you’re sure it’s OK. Use liquid soap because bars can harbor nastiness and don’t use anti-bacterial because it makes bacteria stronger.
      • Triple antibiotic like neosporin “every cut, every time!”
      • Watergel for burns, I love this stuff.
      • Vaseline (I’m old school and always thought that after a short period wounds should air out and scab over but that isn’t the current recommendation. Vaseline is just petroleum goo that repels moisture in both directions locking in moisture and protecting the wound. So that’s what I do now on my various boo-boos: soap/water, neosporin, vaseline and a bandage for several days, it does seem to heal faster)
      • Ipecac / activated charcoal for poisoning (poison.org or (800) 222-1222 and maybe a booklet to know which to use if the phone is out?)
      • Imodium or some anti-diarrheal with the same active ingredient
      • Ibuprofen (or any NSAID like aspirin)
      • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) (not an NSAID so can be combined with one, like Ibuprofen or aspirin for bigger pains)
      • Aspirin for use as a blood thinner in case of stroke or heart attack—not for kids
      • Mucinex (actually aids coughing because coughs happen for a reason) (I don’t use cold medicine beyond tylenol for fever/ headache because they just inhibit what your body is doing to get rid of the baddies: runny nose, etc)
      • Some kind of antihistamine pill and an ointment like benadryl cream for bites and rashes.
      • Generic Claritin is the best med in my experience for hay fever type allergy
      • Antacid, I use more than I used to, Tums for quick and zantac for worse bouts.

      I have lot of other stuff just because I hate to feel helpless when something happens. Boxes of N95s, bandages, splints, butterflies, skin-glue, blood-stop, tourniquets, blah. But you should at least have some nice clean cloth or bandage material handy, gauze, bandaids, etc.

      Of course kid versions of all the above if you have littles.

      • 1

        Wish they would have taught us this all in school. 

        Thank you Pops for the detailed list and explanation and to everyone else for their input. I am going to go through my medicine cabinet and first aid kit and make sure I have everything sorted out.

        Interesting plan of attack with just letting your body do it’s thing for the most part when you are sick with a cold. Guess I am so miserable at the time that I want to take anything and everything to feel better but I may be prolonging the sickness by holding things back.

    • 3

      I agree mostly with what Pops says. I keep a first aid kit with dressings but my medicine cabinet contains the following – this is everyday use rather than end of the world supplies!

      Paracetamol (acetaminophen) I keep lots of this as it can be used for fever and pain.

      Ibuprofen to take down swelling. It’s not suitable for everyone though 

      I keep Chlorphenamine, an antihistamine, we don’t really have allergies in my family but this can be used to quickly treat allergic reactions. However it can make you sleepy so you need to be aware of that!

      I agree with Pops that cold medicines are not worth bothering with but I do keep menthol crystals with can be dissolved in hot water for steam inhalation. This is great to help with congestion but steam alone will also help. It can help when you get to the productive cough stage of a cold as well – for me this is much more cost effective than buying anti-mucolytics.

      Magnesium Sulphate paste which is used as a drawing ointment.

      A small packet of Imodium but plenty of rehydration sachets. I know you can make your own rehydration solution but tbh when I’m sick or I’m dealing with other people being sick a commercial product is easier to use. In my mind, diarrhoea is similar to coughing, the body’s way of trying to get rid of bad things but in case of upset stomachs I tend to resort to the BRAT diet! 

      Antibiotic resistance is something that worries me and access to antibiotic creams here tends to be prescription only so I don’t keep them although I have been known to keep the tubes if they’ve been prescribed and not completely finished! I do keep anti-septics and sudocrem.

      Other than that I keep sterile saline pods for eye and wound washing, tick removers, 

      I don’t keep low dose aspirin but perhaps I should as I’m now heading into that age category!

      Skincare is also really important, healthy skin will heal much quicker than dry skin. It is also less prone to damaged in the first place – So time to get moisturising!! 

      I’m a great believer that keeping active, especially outside, limiting processed foods and keeping healthy are the best ways to avoid problems but that’s just my opinion. 

    • 4

      I agree with the above comments. One item that’s important (not technically OTC meds) is good, sometimes heavy-duty skin cream. If you’re suddenly doing a lot more manual work, fiddling with equipment, increased sun or cold exposure, or having to sanitize your hands frequently, you’re more likely to have skin issues and even breakdowns. Odorless is best, and it’s good to test various brands to make sure they don’t irritate you or family members, given that people react differently to various ingredients. 

      • 4

        Absolutely we buy ‘working hands’ cream in bulk 😅! Teen 1 just started first job as a dishwasher – he is first learning the importance of skin care! 

    • 4

      I keep unprocessed honey in a small container. It never goes bad and is a great anti-inflammatory and antibacterial ointment. It keeps cuts and burns moist and protected from infection.

      See PubMed: https://bit.ly/3PJveJe

    • 3

      You’ve already had some great inputs.  Note that dry items like tablets store longer than liquids or gels.  There’s a full list for the home on the site here.  Things that come to mind to add.  

      • +1 for mucinex – or another brand of expectorant.  It seems to be what helps me the most to prevent a cold from progressing to pneumonia.  I upped my stores just prior to the pandemic since COVID was respiratory.
      • Benedryl for allergic reactions.  Has helped a friend during a life threatening reaction to a medication. Can also help with bee stings and other acute allergic triggers.
      • +1 for Claritin for long term allergies works best for my chemistry.  Zyrtec or Allegra may do better for you.  
      • Suncreen is in this category for me because if I don’t put it on before clothing, it just doesn’t seem to happen. 
      • Lotion for sunburn for when suncreen didn’t happen- it’s not the same as for dry skin.  Pops’ Watergel would work here. Just learned that my Aloe Vera had gone weird when a relative was in need.   
      • Hydrocortisone cream for rashes.  
      • Cough drops
      • Epsom Salts
      • Butterfly bandages and/or Steristrips – that has kept us from the ER for stitches a few times.  
      • +1 for electrolytes as well – when you NEED them you don’t want to go get them.  Get a flavor you like and you’re more likely to actually drink it as well.
      • Tools that are helpful especially during COVID:  thermometer, Sp02 sensor, Blood pressure machine, ECG
      • Gel Ice Packs in the freezer
      • Elastic bandages
      • The makings for chicken broth or whatever hot nourishing liquid you like when you’re down.  I tend to always have this on hand, but should consider freezing it as a kit.
      • 1

        Definitely follow Alicia’s last step here. Chicken broth is wonderful not only for soups but can be drunk plain for added nutrition. Try and get bone broth in either chicken or beef flavor, the bone in the broth adds a lot more nutrition to get you better faster.

      • 2

        Most of my life each cold ends up in my chest. I have used Mucinex and other expectorants or cough medicines but no more. They are expensive and often have ingredients I don’t want or can’t pronounce…

        The best cough medicine I have ever used is honey in herbal tea. This ALWAYS works. It soothes a chronic cough and is a great expectorant.

        I have also used honey in hot water to similar effect.

        Honey is all natural, never goes bad, is pretty cheap (compared to OTC cough medicines) and easy to store.