You’re meticulous about monitoring the expiration dates on milk cartons. You carefully check sell-by dates before putting meat in your shopping cart. And you take a moment to scan cans, bottles and jars for their “best before” dates.
But have you ever checked the expiration dates on the contents of your first-aid kit? Do you even have a first-aid kit?
Just face it: It’s time for a medicine cabinet makeover.
If you’re like the rest of us, you are probably missing items that you or your loved ones will need in case of an injury that falls short of requiring a visit to the emergency room. And, like the rest of us, your bathroom cabinets are likely filled with items that have outlived their “use by” dates, potentially making them less potent or perhaps even dangerous. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not mince words on its website: “Once the expiration date has passed, there is no guarantee that an expired medicine will be safe and effective. If your medicine has expired, do not use it.”
Consider this your nudge to take stock of your family’s medicine cabinet and see what might need replacing. Make a list, keep your eyes peeled for coupons and sales on the items your family is most likely to need. You could also take the easy way out and just buy a trauma kit.
Here are the items a well-stocked medicine cabinet should contain, plus a few items you’ll be happy you have on hand. (If there are items we’ve overlooked, please leave a comment on the online version of this story, so we can add them to our list.)
• Bandages and gauze in a variety of shapes and sizes.
• Anti-bacterial spray and/or ointment.
• Hydrocortisone cream, to relieve itching.
• Tweezers and scissors.
• An instant-read thermometer. A thermometer with an ear scan feature might be helpful when you want to take a temperature without waking up a sick child who has finally fallen asleep.
• Cough drops and cough syrup.
• An over-the-counter allergy medication.
• Cold reliever and sleep enhancer such as NyQuil, or a generic-brand equivalent.
• Rubbing alcohol. Believe it or not, this can expire too, losing its effectiveness over time.
• Cold pack. Keep this in the freezer, of course, so it’s ready to go.
• Heating pad. Probably not standard fare for an emergency kit, but it might be soothing for an aching back, or flu-induced chills.
• A first-aid guide or pamphlet. You can find these online or perhaps at your doctor’s office. And, in a pinch, you can always look something up online. But it’s nice to have a primer at your fingertips when you’re trying to remember the best way to treat a burn or sprained ankle, or what R.I.C.E. stands for. (That would be rest, ice, compression, elevation — the course of treatment for minor soft-tissue injuries.)
• A laminated list of phone numbers and addresses and perhaps even a map including directions to your doctor and the nearest emergency room.
• Eyewash, for soothing an eye that has become irritated after an afternoon cleaning out the garage.
• Gloves, eye protection and a mouth guard in case you need to perform CPR.