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Keeping a well-stocked medicine cabinet is key to addressing the headaches life throws at you and your family. Let's get your shopping list together with the help of Dr. Neha Vyas, a family medicine physician.

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What Should Be In Your Medicine Cabinet?

Podcast Transcript

John Horton: Welcome, and thanks for joining us for another episode of the Health Essentials Podcast. I'm John Horton, your host, and the goal today is to save you from a future late-night run to a drugstore. Let me set a scene. t's about nine o'clock and all of a sudden, someone in your house feels terrible. Could be a throbbing headache or a nasty cough or red and itchy eyes, maybe it's all three. Bottom line, you need to find relief. Keeping a well-stocked medicine cabinet is key to address the headaches that life throws at you and your family. So what should absolutely, positively be in there? That's what we're going to find out today with family medicine physician Neha Vyas. Dr. Vyas is one of the many experts at Cleveland Clinic who pops into the podcast to share health information that you can use and trust. So get a pen and let's get that medicine cabinet shopping list together. Dr. Vyas, thank you so much for being with us here today. Love having you with us.

Dr. Vyas: Thank you so much for having me here today, John.

John Horton: I know when we were talking earlier, you said that one of the things that you really love about your practice is how you get to work with the entire family. Tell us a little bit about why that's such a big thing for you.

Dr. Vyas: Thank you so much. Yes, I really enjoy being part of the whole family. I think getting to know everybody in the family gives me a better concept of what the healthcare needs are for each individual. And it's also nice being on the front lines of health. And when you have a good healthy family, you have a good, healthy individual. I think it kind of goes hand in hand.

John Horton: Definitely. Definitely. Well, today we're going right to those front lines of family healthcare with how to stock your medicine cabinet. I know when we were talking earlier, you kind of broke it down into seven pretty distinct categories. So let's jump right in there in the first, the big one, which is pain relievers.

Dr. Vyas: Yes, indeed. So, two of the ones that I generally recommend are ibuprofen, which is commonly known as Advil, and acetaminophen, which is commonly known as Tylenol.

John Horton: OK. What's the difference between the two of those?

Dr. Vyas: Well, that's a really good question. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen come in different categories of medicine. So ibuprofen generally is in a category called NSAIDs or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories. That also includes another medicine known as naproxen or Aleve.

John Horton: And then as far as the aspirin then, how is that different from that?

Dr. Vyas: Actually, it's also in the same category of drugs. We don't really use it much as a pain medicine as we do the Advil or the Aleve because we generally use it in our patients with certain heart conditions instead. And aspirin's not really good for children, so we try to make sure that if we do have it in our medicine cabinet, we know how to use it properly.

John Horton: I was going to ask; are there specific pain relievers you should use for children?

Dr. Vyas: We generally like to stay with either acetaminophen, which is Tylenol or ibuprofen, which is the Advil.

John Horton: OK. All right, wonderful. All right, moving on with our shopping list here... Muscle pains, something that we all deal with and we do a little too much yard work or workout a little too hard. What should we be looking for there?

Dr. Vyas: Well, there's two I like to recommend, and one is called diclofenac, which is a newcomer to this market and it's also known as Voltaren Gel. Now the thing about it is it's also an NSAID, so you have to be careful when you take it and you might want to talk to your doctor before you start to use it.

John Horton: OK. And what other … you said there were two things — what was the other one?

Dr. Vyas: Yeah, and the one that's easier to use and people use a lot more frequently is something called ThermaCare or Salonpas. The medicines in there are generally well tolerated by everybody, and so you can use them a little bit more generously than you can the other one, and that comes in a patch form.

John Horton: That's what I was going to ask. Those are the patches that you can put on. It just kind of gives you a little relief when those joints are aching.

Dr. Vyas: Yes, indeed.

John Horton: The third category I know that you had brought up were allergies, something so many people deal with during various times of the year. What's the go-to for that?

Dr. Vyas: Well, the category of DR. Medicines I like to recommend are Claritin or Allegra or Zyrtec. They're also known as loratadine or fexofenadine or cetirizine.

John Horton: Those are mouthfuls.

Dr. Vyas: Yes, they are. And there's a new one called desloratadine, also known as Clarinex, that also is in the same category.

John Horton: So those, I take it, are key to have around just for what types of situations?

Dr. Vyas: Yeah, those are great to have around if you have the seasonal allergies, or right as you're starting to develop a respiratory infection and you have that runny nose or the sneezing or the itchy, watery eyes. You don't need to have all of those, you probably just need to have one of those in your medicine cabinet.

John Horton: Now this is a silly question, do people respond to all those different brands a little differently. So should you maybe try one and then try another if it's not working quite well?

Dr. Vyas: That's a great question, and it really depends. It does seem, even though there's no evidence to support this, it does seem that after a while, your body may get used to it and you might have to switch to another one in that same category of drugs.

John Horton: Wonderful advice. So moving on, and this is a category that I know people always are worried about and it would be GI issues. What do we need to find relief?

Dr. Vyas: Well, for the heartburn, my one of the go-to's is famotidine, also known as Pepcid. It's a good general heartburn medicine. Now if you can't take a pill, there's also antacids that you can use as well calcium carbonate, also known as Tums.

John Horton: And I think the GI issues, we've been at the top part there. You have some issues a little lower down, too.

Dr. Vyas: Yes, indeed. And if you're a little stopped up, you take one thing. If you have the runs, you kind of want to take another one.

John Horton: So, what should we have on hand for each one of those?

Dr. Vyas: Right. Well, if you tend toward constipation, it might be a good idea to have something called polyethylene glycol or MiraLAX. You can use a capful of this powder in your drink of choice in the morning and that'll help get you going.

John Horton: All right. And on the other end?

Dr. Vyas: And on and on the other hand, there's a pill which also comes in a chewable form, it's called loperamide, or Imodium, which is the brand name and that helps stop you up a little bit when you've got the runs.

John Horton: All right. These are always such uncomfortable things to talk about, but I take it that's part of being a family doctor. These are the sort of questions you get, I'd imagine.

Dr. Vyas: We do emphasize a lot of stomach ailments in family medicine. Indeed. No secrets here.

John Horton: All right. And then is there one that just catch-all for all those sort of issues?

Dr. Vyas: Yes, indeed. And if you have to pick one, then one to go to is something called bismuth, or also known as Pepto, Pepto-Bismol. It comes in a pill form. It also comes in a liquid form. I find the pills to be very helpful if you're on the go and just want to have a little bit of extra insurance for something.

John Horton: It's always a good idea, especially if you're traveling or something like that, just to have that little safeguard.

Dr. Vyas: Yes.

John Horton: Moving on through our list here, the itching, allergy sort of stuff. What should you have on hand?

Dr. Vyas: Yes, for those summer days when you've been outside too much and the mosquitoes find you attractive, it's great to have something called hydrocortisone cream on hand or Cordaid. It comes in a cream form and you can rub it on those areas which are red and itchy, and that'll help you for a little while.

John Horton: I use that all the time. I got to tell you, the mosquitoes absolutely feast on me and I'm one of those. I must be delicious.

Dr. Vyas: Yes, you must have that particular scent that the mosquitoes love.

John Horton: All right. Anything else in that category or just a topical cream?

Dr. Vyas: Yeah, actually there is another medicine that can be used both as an antihistamine and as an anti-itch medicine. The name of it is diphenhydramine, we commonly know it as Benadryl. Now the thing about that is it does make you a little sleepy if you take it in pill form, so you want to be careful. It also comes in a cream form that you can use in addition to hydrocortisone to help you with those bug bites.

John Horton: Oh, wonderful, wonderful. And I love how you've broken these down. It makes it so easy as far as to categorize them. So the next one is respiratory, which is actually, something I'm dealing with right now, which is why I feel scratchy and everything else today. What should we always have around just in case that comes up?

Dr. Vyas: And that's a big category, John, and there's quite a number of them in there. So let's start, for instance, with a cough. And there's two types of medicines that you can use for a cough. You can use something that'll suppress your cough and you can use something that helps you cough it up. So, the cough suppressants are dextromethorphan, such as Robitussin, and the expectorants are guaifenesin such as Mucinex, and believe it or not, they have combinations of those two as well.

John Horton: I always wonder that, when you look at those, why would you want to do one versus the other? And I was always curious about that.

Dr. Vyas: That's a really good question. And it really just depends on the way you're feeling. For some people, they feel like if they could get their stuff up, they would feel better. So they would want to take an expectorant. But at night, you certainly want don't want to cough all the way throughout the night because that would keep you up. That would be a good time to take a suppressant to help get you some sleep at night.

John Horton: Great tips. Because you look at both of them there when you're shopping and you're like, I'm not sure which one I need. So it sounds like they both have a role, depending on the time of day and what you're doing.

Dr. Vyas: They do indeed.

John Horton: What else? You said it's a big category, so what else should we make room for on the cart?

Dr. Vyas: In addition to expectorants and suppressants, you also have just the good old-fashioned cough drops and cough sprays, which may be helpful for you even right now. Right, John?

John Horton: I'm thinking I could use it, so definitely. All right, and then I know the one thing you were talking about, which I love that you had on the list, was just plain old honey.

Dr. Vyas: Yes, indeed. Now, some of these medicines aren't really safe for children, but children can benefit from a little bit of honey, natural honey, to help as a cough medicine, but before you give your child honey, be sure to talk to your doctor to make sure it's safe to do so.

John Horton: OK. Is there an age? Because I've always heard that there's an age where your children should not have honey. Where is the line for that?

Dr. Vyas: Yes. So you should never ever give your child honey if they're under the age of 1. But you should most definitely talk to your doctor before you give them honey under the age of 2.

John Horton: All right. And then the last category that you had brought up is the thing that always happens, the boo-boo category, the injuries. So what sort of stuff should you make sure you always have at the go in case somebody scrapes something up?

Dr. Vyas: Well, if it's anything like my family, I had two very active children. That meant that I had a steady supply of adhesive bandages on hand.

John Horton: Always. Definitely.

Dr. Vyas: Yes.

John Horton: Bandages are obviously great. What other sort of things should you have around?

Dr. Vyas: Well, they actually make liquid bandages, which are really good for those cuts that are somewhat annoying and don't seem to hold very well with the adhesive bandages. They seem to hold up under water much better than the adhesive bandages. So I always like to have a little bottle of liquid bandage around.

John Horton: OK. All right. And I take it plenty of alcohol wipes just to keep everything clean.

Dr. Vyas: Yes, indeed. That seems to be a general go-to disinfectant.

John Horton: So, let me ask you this; how often should you go through your cabinet just to make sure you're current, or things just aren't way out of date?

Dr. Vyas: That's a great question. And I generally like to do inventory every six months.

John Horton: So, kind of seasonally, I guess, because it seems like there's different medicines you use at different times of year.

Dr. Vyas: Yeah, exactly. You can rotate them. The ones that you need in certain seasons you can put in the front and the other ones you can throw in the back.

John Horton: Right. So let me ask you this, because I know I've gone through mine, and every once in a while, you pull something out and you're like, I cannot believe how old this is. Are those harmful to take?

Dr. Vyas: That's a really great question. If you're really in a pinch and you're just a few months out, it's probably OK to take, not necessarily a wise idea. If it's a bandage or something like that, it's probably fine.

John Horton: All right. Dr. Vyas, we've covered so much ground. Is there anything that we missed or anything you want to add?

Dr. Vyas: Yeah, well there's another category of medicines in the respiratory that we should probably touch on and that's the decongestants. And the only reason I wanted to bring it up, is because those are the medicines you want to stay away from if you have a heart condition.

John Horton: Oh, what's the concern with those if you have a heart condition?

Dr. Vyas: Well, they can actually raise your blood pressure and they're not good for people with certain cardiac conditions. So, something to really pay close attention to and not just reach for willy-nilly if you have a cold, and that medicine's known as Sudafed.

John Horton: All right. Well that is definitely a good tip to end on. So thank you so much for being with us today and can't wait to have you back.

Dr. Vyas: Thank you for having me.

John Horton: Coughs, headaches and various pains are all part of life. Plenty of over the counter medications are available to help you find relief, but for them to work their magic, you need them in the house. So let's get that medicine cabinet together. Until next time, be well.

Speaker 3: Thank you for listening to Health Essentials, brought to you by Cleveland Clinic and Cleveland Clinic Children's. To make sure you never miss an episode, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts or visit Cleveland clinic.org/agpodcast. This podcast is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician.

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