With several viruses circulating in our community this season, we’re all doubling down on preventive measures such as masking, physical distancing and handwashing. Prevention really is the best medicine — no question. But right behind that is preparation, because even with the best preventive efforts, sometimes a bug gets through our defenses. Are you prepared to take care of yourself, just in case you come down with symptoms?
Once symptoms start, the last thing you want to do is drag yourself out of bed and drive to a pharmacy. That’s also the last thing you should do – you don’t want to risk infecting others. Instead, our pharmacists suggest taking a few minutes this weekend, while you’re feeling healthy, to take an inventory of your medicine cabinet and make sure it’s well stocked, just in case.
The well-stocked, virus-ready medicine cabinet
To be prepared to monitor and treat minor cold, flu or COVID-19 symptoms, we recommend stocking your medicine cabinet with these items:
A working thermometer: if you own a thermometer already, try it and make sure it’s working. If it’s not, you probably need new batteries. If you don’t own a thermometer, get one (plus batteries), and read the instructions to learn how to use it. When used correctly, both digital and infrared thermometers are accurate ways to monitor for fever. They’re also useful for prevention — taking your temperature before meeting up with others can alert you to a fever so you can avoid spreading an illness to others.
A pulse oximeter (if you’re at high risk): not everyone needs a pulse oximeter, but if you’re at higher risk for more severe respiratory issues, it might be good to have one on hand. These simple devices help monitor oxygen levels. In some cases, they can be useful for monitoring COVID-19 symptoms from home. They’re finicky, though — movement, dark nail polish, or dirt on the sensors can cause inaccurate readings, so they should be used cautiously.
A pain and fever reducer: to reduce fever and relieve muscle aches, headache and sore throat, Tylenol (acetaminophen) and NSAIDs such as Advil (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen) are equally effective. You might pick up some throat lozenges, too — they can last years in the medicine cabinet. A throat spray is another option.
Cough medicines: for a dry cough, which is more common with COVID-19, a suppressant that contains dextromethorphan, such as Robitussin, can ease coughing. For a wet cough, more typical of the common cold, an expectorant containing guaifenesin, such as Mucinex, can loosen mucus. If you have room in the cabinet and the budget, consider stocking both types, but check the expiration dates to make sure they’ll last a few seasons, in case you don’t need them right away.
A respiratory remedy: many remedies are available for sneezing, sniffles and congestion. Antihistamines are popular choices. Products that contain diphenhydramine (such as Benadryl or Tylenol PM) or doxylamine (found in many nighttime cold products) cause drowsiness. If you prefer one that doesn’t, look for a non-drowsy formula that contains cetirizine (Zyrtec), loratadine (Claritin) or fexofenadine (Allegra).
And while you’re making a shopping list…
Make sure to stock plenty of tissues, hand sanitizer (containing at least 60% alcohol) and anti-bacterial soap. And a can of chicken soup in the cupboard never hurts.
Here’s more about what to do if you have symptoms. Being prepared is great, but prevention is always best. Stay safe, take care, and have a happy and healthy holiday season.