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Unexpected medical emergencies can appear at any time. Some are more severe than others, but by Murphy's law, they usually occur either in the dead of night or during rush hours when any pharmacy is either closed or hard to reach. So today we’ll impart some “classical” insight and show you how to be prepared in case of anything. We’ll answer the question “what medicine you should have at home?” and make sure you’re stoked up on the essentials.

We’ll show you how to buy smart and not spend a fortune as well as when and how to use certain medications and supplies. Finally, we’ll back up our claims with proven research, like we always do.

So next time you're at the pharmacy, be sure to get...

Bandages

Bandages & Assorted Wound Supplies

How often you’ll need them: Medium (1)

Ease of use: Easy

Price: Cheap

Cuts and lacerations are so common in most households that we don’t bat an eye when there’s a minor accident. Hey, these things happen around the kitchen, during yard work or a million other places right? However, even the most minor of wounds on your hands of feet shouldn’t be exposed to the outside world until healed. (2) Luckily, there’s not that much to worry about as long as you have some supplies next to the medicine you should have at home.

For Small Wounds

  • 1-2 packs of adhesive bandages - Various sizes (at least 2-3 sizes);
  • 1 roll of gauze - Used for your upper and lower members mostly;
  • 4-5 square pieces of gauze - Used a s dressing for wounds;

For Medium and Large Wounds

  • 3-4 compression bandages - The strong adhesive helps them apply a lost of pressure on the wound;
  • 1-2 roll of wide gauze - In case of wounds on your abdomen or chest that requires dressing.

❗Do not buy or use tourniquets if you don’t have some first aid experience. Applying one to a wound, even to a server one in hopes of saving the patient, can cause a lot of damage since the blood flow is completely cut off.

Disinfectant Solutions

How often you’ll need them: Medium-High

Ease of use: Easy

Price: Cheap

This is probably something you already have at home in the form of rubbing alcohol or the common household soap. For open wounds you should generally use a light iodine based solution such as Povidone-iodine, more commonly known as Betadine.

For open wounds of various sizes:

  • 1 bottle of iodine solution - It’ll last you a very long time, trust me.

For general disinfection of your skin:

  • 1 bottle of rubbing alcohol - It can also be used to clean surfaces that you come in contact often, like your phone screen.
  • 2-3 bars of common soap - There’s no reason to shell out for a more expensive brand but do make sure not to buy any clothing soap as it’s way too aggressive.

❗You should never apply anything that contains an alcohol base on an open wound. (3) Apart from the unpleasant burning sensation, a strong disinfectant might produce tissue damage through protein denaturation.

Anti-Inflammatory Medicine

How often you’ll need them: Medium

Ease of use: Medium

Price: Cheap

Migraines and tension type headaches are incredibly common among the general populace. Very few people manage to live their whole lives without at least 1-2 headaches every 6 months. This is especially true when it comes to children, young adults and women. (4, 5)

Apart from the above two pathologies, another very common issue that responds well to anti-inflammatory medication are the monthly menstrual pains (dysmenorrhea). As you can see, it’s a must have as far as medicine you should have at home is considered.

Ibuprofen is by far the most accessible, easy to use, safe and efficient active substance that you can and should use. So we recommend you get:

  • 1-2 packages of ibuprofen 200 mg - Make sure that you ask at the pharmacy specifically for the active substance and not a commercial name. This way you won’t end up with an overpriced product that has absolutely the same effects.

❗Although generally safe, you should avoid taking any non-steroid anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs without eating first since they may cause abdominal discomfort. You should also avoid them if you have a history of asthma or if you are pregnant.

Antipyretics (fever medicine)

How often you’ll need them: Medium

Ease of use: Medium

Price: Cheap

Common cases of fever (>38-39°C or >100.2-102.2°F) are usually self-limiting and don’t require any treatment. After all, it is one of  the body's way of fighting back infection. (6) However, if you find yourself in a situation that you absolutely must reduce it, we recommend a paracetamol based medication. The substance itself has a mild anti-inflammatory effect but it’s main role is antipyretic (reducing temperature due to fever). Which is why we suggest using it instead of ibuprofen for this specific case.

As far as medicine you should have at home is considered:

  • 1-2 packages of paracetamol 400 mg - It can also be found as effervescent tablets that are easier to administer.

❗Again, while generally safe, you should avoid taking more than 1-2 tablets per day. The main way this medication is processed out of your body after it has done its job is through the liver. As such, if you have any chronic liver disease, you ought to avoid taking it as much as possible.

Nitroglycerin

How often you’ll need them: Rarely

Ease of use: Medium

Price: Medium

Nitroglycerin is the first line of treatment for acute chest pain. Any sharp pain felt in your chest is a cause for concern however, having some nitroglycerin in your medical cabinet, can help you “self triage” the degree of urgency.

In very broad terms, wait ~20 minutes and if the pain doesn’t go away, take some nitroglycerin. If it subsides, you should make an appointment with your family physician for the next day. If the pain doesn’t go away even after nitroglycerin and 20 minutes have passed, call an ambulance. (7, 8)

Please note that the above example is very broad and it definitely doesn’t apply to everyone and every case of chest pain. Some are more life threatening than others and you should always inform yourself from multiple sources, not just us. Hey, ask your family physician! That’s why he’s there for. We’re just recommending what medicine you should have at home.

Make sure to get:

  • 1 bottle of nitroglycerin spray - Much easier to administer than pills since it only requires 1-2 puffs under your tongue.

❗One of the more common side effects are headaches due to the vasodilation effect of the substance. Also, we need to mention again that this can be a case of life threatening pathology so do use your best judgment!

Diarrhea

Antidiarrheals

How often you’ll need them: Rarely

Ease of use: Easy

Price: Cheap

Mild cases of diarrhea are usually just uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing. There are some rare cases when you should be worried, namely if you’ve been having 4-5+ discharges per day. But as far as medicine you should have at home is concerned, we suggest you get diosmectite - a natural silicate of aluminium and magnesium. (9) If you can’t find it locally, ask your pharmacist for something similar.

As far as medicine you should have at home is considered:

  • 1 box of diosmectite - It’s insoluble in water, but you can mix one pack in a spoon or glass with a bit of water so it’s easier to swallow.

❗There aren’t any real precautions that you should be aware off, since the substance doesn’t have an active molecule. You should still keep hydrated since you lose a lot of water in your stool.

Antispasmodics

How often you’ll need them: Medium

Ease of use: Easy

Price: Cheap

When the holidays roll in with their big family dinners the emergency department starts filling up with patients. Most accuse cholecystitis that could have been easily avoided with some medicine you should have at home. Papaverine or drotaverine based medication is our go to suggestion in this case. While related to other opium drugs, both differ in structure and pharmacological action. As such, the risk of addiction isn’t an outstanding issue unlike other analgesics. (10)

  • 1-2 boxes of papaverine antispasmodics - Even with these on hand, do try to eat sensibly at the dinner table and don’t overfeed yourself, eh?

A different, yet fairly important problem that can arise after a big meal is acute pancreatitis. This is truly a medical emergency and the papaverine won’t help at all. If you feel a very intense pain situated from under your left rib all the way to under your right rib, don’t waste time and make the call.

Medicine for Acute Allergic Reactions

How often you’ll need them: Rarely

Ease of use: Difficult

Price: Fairly Expensive

This is another case where the treatment can either wait or is a genuine emergency. Allergic reactions on your skin in the form of rashes are by no means a prompt to call the ambulance. However, swelling of the face and tongue is something you should be worried about as it can lead to the obstruction of the upper airways.

If you find yourself in this unpleasant situation, and the ambulance will still be a while off, we recommend a hydrocortisone intramuscular or subcutaneous injection. While the substance is also used for the chronic treatment of other pathologies, there are certain injectable forms used in severe acute allergic reactions. (11)

Depending on the brand, some hydrocortisone vials aren’t premixed and come in two different recipients (we personally have something like this at home). They will require a syringe to mix the two vials before administering. As you can see, it’s quite a bit harder to work with, hence the “difficult” rating.

  • 1 pack of hydrocortisone sodium succinate 100 mg - depending on the country you live in, you might not be able to get it OTC (without a prescription); again, if in doubt, ask your physician.

❗We were very tempted to not include this section as part of what medicine you should have at home because of the relative difficulty of administration and the uncommon occurrence of the pathology itself. Think of it as optional unless you have a young family member who hasn’t been tested for allergies yet.

Resume

Documents About Your Health Status

How often you’ll need them: Always

Ease of use: Very Easy

Price: FREE!

Finally, while not a medication per se, your medical cabinet shouldn’t be without paperwork. I know what you’re thinking, but we’re being serious.

Every visit to your doctor should come with a paper that explains what happened since you arrived at the hospital and what procedures and medication were administered. Keep these on hand at all times! You never know when you might need them and they can have an immense impact on the quality of healthcare you’ll receive in the future.

Make sure to have a neatly organised file with:

  • any and all papers you receive from previous admission(s) to a hospital;
  • A paper with the chronic medication you take;
  • A paper with any allergic reactions you have;
  • A paper with your blood group.

If you found this guide useful...

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References
  1. A. Singer et al, “National trends in ED lacerations between 1992 and 2002.”, The American journal of emergency medicine.

  2. Ellie J. C. Goldstein; “Bite Wounds and Infection”, Clinical Infectious Diseases

  3. Anne M. Helmenstine, “Why Does Alcohol Burn on a Cut or Wound?”, thethoughtco.com

  4. Wojciech Split, “Epidemiology of Migraine Among Students From Randomly Selected Secondary Schools in Lodz”, American Headache Society

  5. Richard B. Lipton et. al, “Prevalence and Burden of Migraine in the United States: Data From the American Migraine Study II”, American Headache Society

  6. Matthew J. Kluger, “Fever: Role of Pyrogens and Cryogens”, American Physiological Society

  7. Richard Grose et. al, “Mechanism of nitroglycerin effect in valvular aortic stenosis”, The American Journal of Cardiology

  8. B. Greg Brown et.al, “The Mechanisms of Nitroglycerin Action: Stenosis Vasodilatation as a Major Component of the Drug Response”, Professional Heart Daily

  9. Dupont C et. al, “Effect of Diosmectite on Intestinal Permeability Changes in Acute Diarrhea: A Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trial”, Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition

  10. A. F. Green, “Comparative effects of analgesics on pain threshold, respiratory frequency and gastrointestinal propulsion.”, British Journal of Pharmacology

  11. Drugs.com, “Hydrocortisone Sodium Succinate
Update Log
  • 17.01.2018 - Initial Publication

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