Even minor illnesses and ailments - such as colds, headaches and diarrhoea - can disrupt your life. Be prepared for most common ailments by keeping a well-stocked medicine cabinet at home.
Sunita Behl of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain explains the essential medicines that your cabinet should contain. This list is not exhaustive, but it will help you deal with most minor ailments.
Painkillers such as aspirin, paracetamol and ibuprofen are highly effective at relieving most minor aches and pains, such as headaches and menstrual pain. Aspirin must not be given to children under 16. These medicines also help with some minor ailments, such as the common cold, by reducing aches and pains and high temperatures. These three medicines also help to reduce the inflammation in arthritis and sprains.
These are useful for dealing with allergies and insect bites. They're also helpful if you have hay fever. Antihistamines can come in the form of creams that you apply to the skin (topical antihistamine), or tablets that you swallow (oral antihistamine). Antihistamine creams soothe insect stings and bites, and rashes and itching from stinging nettles. Antihistamine tablets help to control hay fever symptoms, and calm minor allergic reactions to food. They can also help to calm itchiness during chickenpox. Some antihistamines may cause drowsiness. Ask your pharmacist about this: pharmacists may have antihistamines that don't cause drowsiness.
Oral rehydration salts
Fever, diarrhoea and vomiting make us lose water and essential minerals, and can lead to dehydration. If you have these symptoms and can't continue your normal diet, oral rehydration salts can help to restore your body's natural balance of minerals and fluid, and relieve discomfort and tiredness. But they don't fight the underlying cause of your illness, such as a virus or bacteria. Rehydration salts, available at your local pharmacy, are an easy way to take in minerals and fluid, and help your recovery.
Diarrhoea is caused by a range of things, such as food poisoning or a stomach virus, and can happen without warning. It's a good idea to keep an anti-diarrhoea medicine at home. Anti-diarrhoeal remedies can quickly control the unpleasant symptoms of diarrhoea, although they don't deal with the underlying cause. The most common anti-diarrhoeal is loperamide (sold under the names Imodium, Arret and Diasorb, among others). It works by slowing down the action of your gut. Don't give anti-diarrhoeals to children under 12 because they may have undesirable side effects. Speak to your GP or pharmacist for advice about a child with these symptoms.
If you have stomach ache, heartburn or trapped wind, a simple antacid will reduce stomach acidity and bring relief. It's ideal after a celebration or party. Antacids come as chewable tablets, or tablets that dissolve in water, or in liquid form.
Keep a lotion of at least factor 15. Even brief exposure to the sun can cause sunburn and increase your risk of skin cancer. Ensure that your suncreen provides UVA protection. You can protect yourself further against the sun by wearing a hat and sunglasses, and by avoiding the sun during the hottest part of the day, between 11am and 3pm.
As well as the medicines discussed above, keep a well-prepared first aid kit. This can help to treat minor cuts, sprains and bruises, and it can reduce the risk of cuts becoming infected. It should contain the following items:
- Bandages: these can support injured limbs, such as fractures or sprains. They also apply direct pressure to larger cuts before getting them treated in hospital.
- Plasters: a range of sizes, waterproof if possible.
- Thermometer: digital thermometers that you put in your mouth produce very accurate readings. A thermometer placed under the arm is a good way to read a baby's temperature.
- Antiseptic: this can be used to clean cuts before they're dressed (bandaged). Most can treat a range of conditions, including insect stings, ulcers and pimples. Alcohol-free antiseptic wipes are useful to clean cuts.
- Eyewash solution: this will help to wash out grit or dirt in the eyes.
- Sterile dressings: larger injuries should be covered with a sterile dressing to prevent infection until treatment can be given by a health professional.
- Medical tape: this is used to secure dressings. It can also be used to tape an injured finger to an uninjured one, creating a makeshift splint.
- Tweezers: for taking out splinters. If splinters are left in, they can cause discomfort and become infected.
For more information see the Red Cross interactive guide.
Your pharmacist can help
Don't forget that your local pharmacist can help with many minor ailments such as coughs and colds, asthma and eczema, hay fever and period pain. They can give advice or, where appropriate, medicines that can help to clear up the problem. Instead of booking an appointment with your GP, you can see your local pharmacist any time: just walk in.
Always follow the directions on medicine packets and information leaflets, and never exceed the stated dose. If you have further questions about any of these medicines or you want to buy them, ask your local pharmacist. Always keep medicines out of the sight and reach of children. A high and lockable cupboard in a cool, dry place is ideal. Regularly check the expiry dates. If a medicine is past its use-by date, don't use it or throw it away. Take it to your pharmacy, where it can be disposed of safely.
Adapted from NHS Choices.
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