Not all medicines need a prescription, and while you certainly shouldn’t make it a habit to self-medicate, there are some over-the-counter (OTC) drugs that are good to have on hand for an emergency. Say, when the discomfort is mild enough not to require a house call or hospital visit in the middle of the night, or when the problem is known and the symptom is mild but chronic (in which case, check your best option with your doctor).
Checklist: Stock up on some medicines for emergencies.
Of course, the household medicine cabinet should not be your first or last resort. Do not ignore symptoms that get worse or which persist for more than a couple of days.
Adults’ medicine cabinet
• For mild fevers, bodyaches and pains from unusually high exertion (an unaccustomed game of cricket or spring cleaning), paracetamol (sold as Crocin DS, Metacin, etc.) is the ideal medication.
TIP: Avoid self-medicating with drugs that contain ibuprofen, as it may cause stomach ulcers or kidney-related problems in some. Also opoids (a group of painkillers) have an addiction potential.
• For acidity or heartburn from spicy food, alcohol or caffeinated drinks, keep an antacid syrup or tablet such as Gelusil MPS, Rantac or Omeprazole—as long as the problem is occasional.
• For nausea or vomiting, tablets such as Domstal, Avomine or Perinorm may be useful. However, some people can be allergic to metoclopramide (Perinorm) and react badly. Avomine is best taken half an hour before travelling.
• Mild antidiarrhoeal medication, such as Dependal-M, should be on hand; but use cautiously in children and the elderly. Also keep ORS (oral rehydration solution) or rehydration salts at home.
NOTE: Persistent diarrhoea or vomiting warrants a visit to the hospital.
• Anti-allergy tablets such as cetirizine or Allegra can be useful for skin allergies, persistent sneezing, and bee or wasp stings.
• Keep a decongestant for adding to hot water, such as menthol drops.
• Keep on hand a mild laxative such as cremaffin.
• An antiseptic lotion or cream for minor cuts and bruises (Savlon or Dettol, or Tbact ointment) is one of the most popular items.
• For minor wounds, Betadine ointment or Soframycin cream will check and treat infection.
• Keep calamine or other soothing lotion (such as Caladryl) for insect bites, stings or sunburn.
• Ointments for pain relief can ease the discomfort of sprains. Try Volini gel.
• Also include ointments for burns: A silver nitrate cream such as Silverex is a good option.
Children’s medicine cabinet
There are different formulations of medicines for different ages. An example is Crocin, available as drops, syrup and suspension for children. The drops are meant for infants, syrup for one- to four-year-olds, and Crocin DS (the suspension) for five years and over. If your doctor suggests a pill, double-check whether it is available in a more age-appropriate formulation for a young child (if not, the doctor may suggest crushing the tablet or emptying a capsule for easier delivery—but leave this to the experts, as mixing with water or other liquids and changing the mode of delivery can influence the efficacy of some medicines). Also, make sure to give tablets only with water, or check with your doctor if any other liquid will do: Juices, for example, should not be mixed with some drugs.
NOTE: Most of these medicines come in syrup form, which suits the widest age range, but check dosage with your doctor regularly: For children, it depends on body weight, not age.
• Crocin or paracetamol for sudden fevers. Meftal-P or Combiflam can also be given.
• Benadryl syrup, an antihistamine, is useful for mild allergies. Makes children sleepy too, so good to use at bedtime for non-asthmatic cough.
• Auralgan Otic ear drops are good for sudden ear pain. However, make sure there is no discharge, which might indicate a perforation and call for a visit to the emergency ward.
• Paediatric cough syrups (such as T-minic and Tixylix) or throat-soothing tablets, such as Honitus.
• Saline drops (such as NasoClear, Otrivin, Nasivion-P) and a steamer to clear congestion.
• Anti-allergens such as cetirizine or Atarax can also be kept at home for hay fever and such.
IMPORTANT: Keep an accurate measuring device for liquids. Not every spoon is a standard “tablespoon” or “teaspoon”. A syringe marked in “ml” is the most accurate and easy to use. Other options: marked measuring spoons, droppers and cups.
The medicine cabinet should be kept out of reach of children. Accidental ingestion is a common emergency. In Western countries, medications come in childproof containers, but this is not the case in India, so take extra care.
Experts: S.P. Byotra, senior consultant and chairman, department of medicine, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi; Sunita Maheshwari, senior consultant paediatric cardiologist and head of department, Narayana Hrudayalaya, Bangalore; A.K. Bali, consultant, internal medicine, Moolchand Medcity, New Delhi; Rajiv Chabbra, consultant paediatric and neonatal intensivist, Artemis Health Institute, Gurgaon.
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