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Stock Your Medicine Cabinet With These Must Have Essentials

Here’s everything you should have in a well-stocked medicine cabinet to be ready for any lumps, bumps, bruises, and bellyaches that come your way.

Updated June 15, 2022

By Nicole Kuhar, DO, Family Medicine Physician—Virtua Primary Care – Hammonton 

Do you know what over-the-counter (OTC) medicines and supplies to keep on hand for common issues like aches and pains or gas and heartburn? Or has your medicine cabinet been stocked for so long that it needs an overhaul to get rid of expired products? 

Here’s everything you should have in a well-stocked medicine cabinet to be ready for any lumps, bumps, bruises, and bellyaches. While we use the brand names of some commonly recognized products, it’s OK to use generic or store-brand options, as most will have the same active ingredients but may be less expensive.

Allergies/colds/sinus issues

  • Seasonal allergy medicine or nasal spray: If you experience seasonal allergies every year, ask your primary care provider to recommend an over-the-counter allergy medicine, and start using it a few weeks before allergy season begins in the spring. Oral medications like loratadine (Claritin), fexofenadine (Allegra), or cetirizine (Zyrtec) help prevent and treat allergy symptoms. A steroid nasal spray such as fluticasone (Flonase) or mometasone (Nasonex) can help reduce post-nasal drip and sinus congestion.
  • Diphenhydramine: Known to most as Benadryl, diphenhydramine can be used topically for itching and pain from bug bites and stings, poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac. It also can be taken orally to relieve allergy symptoms or mild allergic reactions. Be aware that diphenhydramine is the active ingredient in most OTC sleep medicine, so it will make you drowsy.
  • Cold medicine: Cold medicines come in many formulas: DM for cough relief, PE for a runny nose and nasal congestion, or a multi-symptom medicine, which may have acetaminophen, and other active ingredients that treat a variety of cold symptoms. It’s best to use a medicine that only treats the symptoms you have. People with high blood pressure should ask their primary care provider (PCP) to recommend cold medications that don’t spike blood pressure. If your symptoms last 7 days or more, schedule an appointment with your PCP.
  • Saline spray: Saline spray moisturizes your nasal passages, helps relieve a stuffy nose, and rids your nose of pollen during allergy season.


  • Visine eye drops: Eye drops can refresh red, tired, or irritated eyes.
  • Allergy eye drops: These eye drops relieve itchy, watery eyes and are especially good for people with seasonal allergies.
  • Dry eye drops: Dry eye occurs when your eyes don’t have enough lubrication due to decreased tear production. This can happen with age, hormonal changes, or the use of certain medications. Dry eye drops are artificial tears that moisturize and soothe your eyes.

Gastrointestinal (GI) issues

  • Antacid tablets: For quick relief from mild or occasional heartburn, use antacid tablets like Tums or Alka Seltzer, which quickly neutralize stomach acid. For chronic heartburn, talk to your PCP about medicines that decrease the amount of stomach acid you produce.
  • Antidiarrheal medicine: An antidiarrheal medicine like Imodium slows down how quickly food moves through your system, allowing your body to absorb water and form solid stools. If you have diarrhea that lasts more than a few days, see your PCP for evaluation.
  • Multi-symptom medicine: Pepto Bismol soothes an irritated stomach and treats GI issues, including diarrhea, heartburn, nausea, and vomiting. If you have multiple GI symptoms for more than 24 – 48 hours, make an appointment with your PCP.
  • Anti-nausea medicine: If you get motion sickness from long car rides, flights, or boat trips, it’s good to keep Dramamine on hand to ease nausea and prevent vomiting.


  • Acetaminophen: The active ingredient in Tylenol, acetaminophen is an all-around helpful pain reliever that treats headaches, toothaches, fever, arthritis, cramps, and more. It’s a safe pain reliever to have on hand if you have chronic kidney disease (CKD), take blood thinners, or are at risk for bleeding. 
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine (NSAID): Commonly known NSAIDs such as Advil or Naproxen effectively reduce fever, pain, and inflammation related to joint and muscle aches and other minor injuries. If you have an increased bleeding risk, take blood thinners, use daily oral steroids for managing an autoimmune condition, or have CKD, you SHOULD NOT take NSAIDs.
  • Aspirin: Aspirin was the first NSAID on the market, and it’s still effective for treating pain, fever, and inflammation. It’s also helpful to have on hand in an emergency for someone having a cardiac event or stroke. While taking a daily baby aspirin was once recommended to prevent heart disease, now you should only take it at the advice of your PCP.


  • Sunscreen: Keep a 30 to 50 SPF, broad-spectrum sunscreen on hand, and use it daily to protect against skin cancer and aging. Try a broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen containing titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide if you have sensitive skin. The FDA requires that sunscreens keep their strength for 3 years, so check the expiration date before applying and get rid of old bottles.
  • Aquaphor: Aquaphor is an emollient ointment that’s helpful for dry skin, chapped lips, and diaper rash. It contains petroleum jelly and other oils that soothe and heal dry skin and minor cuts.
  • Topical hydrocortisone cream: Hydrocortisone cream reduces inflammation and itching for minor rashes and bug bites but shouldn’t be used on the face. If you use it for 5 – 7 days and don’t see improvement, contact your PCP.
  • Antibiotic ointment: An antibiotic ointment, like Neosporin, is effective for treating and healing superficial cuts, scrapes, or burns. If you notice worsening symptoms, like redness, warmth, or drainage, see your PCP.

Finally, a well-stocked medicine cabinet includes multiple sizes of bandages, gauze, first-aid tape, hydrogen peroxide (for disinfecting minor cuts and scrapes), and a thermometer. 

To keep your medicine cabinet organized and up-to-date, make an inventory of these essentials and list the expiration dates of each product so you can replace them when needed. 

You can also talk to your PCP about personalizing your medicine cabinet essentials with safe and effective products that are suited to your needs. 

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