November 28, 2004

Focus: Preventive Medicine

Get your health supplies in order before illnesses strike

With cold and flu season here, experts suggest that everyone take a few minutes to conduct a medicine cabinet checkup.

The first suggestion by the pharmacist Todd Pendergraft is to throw out old medications.

"There is a reason they put an expiration date on it," said Pendergraft, the owner of The Medicine Shoppe in Broken Arrow.

Items should not be kept past the expiration date because the medicine's effectiveness cannot be guaranteed, he said.

In addition to purging old medicines, people may want to rethink where they keep medicine, said Dr. John Tipton, an associate professor of family medicine for the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine in Tulsa.

"In general, the bathroom is not a very good place to keep medicine," Tipton said.

The high humidity in most bathrooms can cause tablets and capsules to degenerate more quickly, he said.

Tipton suggests keeping medications in the kitchen or the bedroom instead -- as long as the items are kept out of the reach of children.

Because there is no real cure for the cold or flu, experts suggest keeping on hand items that effectively treat the symptoms of pesky winter bugs.

People who keep medicine cabinets stocked when healthy will have easy access to medication when they feel sick, Pendergraft said.

Tipton advised, "Think about who lives in the house and have the right medicines on hand."

Adults should not take medication meant for children, and vice versa.

In addition, people need to make sure they take the correct dosage of the medicine, Tipton said.

"A lot of people don't do a very good job of following the directions on the label," he said.

Consumers should read the box the medicine came in because the label usually contains only details on what symptoms the drug is best suited to treat, he said.

Pendergraft said drugs that treat the symptoms of fever, sore throat, cough, congestion and diarrhea are important staples of any good medicine cabinet.

For a fever, Pendergraft recommends keeping a supply of items such as Tylenol, which contains acetaminophen, and Advil, which contains ibuprofen.

People who have cold or flu symptoms should be cautious when taking aspirin-based products because the drug can cause complications including Reye's Syndrome, he said.

To treat a stuffy nose, a product with an antihistamine such as Benadryl will help "dry everything up," he said.

A product containing pseudoephedrine, such as Sudafed, will "help to relieve the pain and pressure that comes with congestion," he said.

In Oklahoma, most products containing pseudoephedrine are only available behind the counter at a pharmacy.

Tipton said consumers should be wary of using nasal spray decongestants for more than three to five days. Using a nasal spray decongestant such as Afrin for too long can cause "rebound congestion" and make the patient feel worse when the drug wears off, he said.

To ease a sore throat, Tipton recommends a "numbing agent" such as a spray.

Coughing, a symptom of the common cold, can be irritating because it prevents people from getting a good night's sleep, Tipton said.

He recommends cough suppressants that contain dextromethorphan such as Robitussin DM.

People should seek medical attention if they don't feel as if they or their children are getting better in a reasonable amount of time.

"A mother's intuition is almost always right," Tipton said. "If they think their kid is sick enough to see a doctor, then they are probably right."

Some of the best remedies for the cold and flu are not found in the medicine cabinet. Tipton listed getting plenty of rest, drinking plenty of fluids and staying home from work or school as things people can do to feel better more quickly.

"The best thing to help people get better faster is to get better rest," he said.

Nicole Nascenzi 581-8315

[email protected]

Medicine cabinet staples

Analgesics -- for achy pain and fever, including sore throat (examples include ibuprofen, aspirin, Advil, acetaminophen)

Decongestants -- for stuffy nose and congestion (examples include Sudafed, Motrin)

Antihistamines -- for sneezing and runny nose (examples include Benadryl, Claritin)

Cough suppressants/expectorants -- for cough (examples include Robitussin, Delsym)

Medicated lozenges or gargles -- for soothing soreness and throat irritation (examples include Hall's, Sucrets, Cepacol, Chloraseptic)

Antacids -- for indigestion, upset stomach or gas (examples include Pepcid, Zantac, Tums, Mylanta)

Antidiarrheals -- for diarrhea (examples include Imodium, Pepto- Bismol, Kaopectate)

Information courtesy of The Medicine Shoppe