Medicine Cabinet Must-Haves

What if someone in your family suddenly became ill in the middle of the night, and you can't find an open drugstore?

It's very important to have your medicine cabinet stocked with the most essential, over-the-counter, at-home first aid products and medications - in the event a sudden need for them arises.

Early Show medical contributor Dr. Mallika Marshall filled in viewers on medicine cabinet must-haves Saturday:

Before you take any over-the-counter drug, make sure there isn't a reason you shouldn't be taking it.

Some people have certain medical conditions or are taking certain prescription medications that don't mix well with over-the-counter drugs. So if there's any question, ask you doctor first. And of course, with young kids, you should always ask your pediatrician before giving them a medication.

These are general suggestions for what the average American family should keep in their medicine chest on a regular basis.

For a nasty cold or flu:

Remember, these suggestions are for adults only. Recent studies have found that popular over-the-counter cough and cold remedies can be harmful to children.

Many cough and cold preparations come in combination, which can be both confusing and expensive. It's best to stick with one active ingredient and take only what you need at that time.

Good things to have on hand in case that common cold or flu strikes include a decongestant (Sudafed, phenylephrine) and an antihistamine (Benadryl, diphenhydramine, Claritin, loratadine). And for a cough syrup, look for a cough suppressant (Robitussin, dextromethorphan). For nasal congestion, you should keep some saline drops around (saline nasal drops, baby bulb suction) which will come in handy for your infant, too, if you use it with a bulb suction.

Would some of these same medications work for allergies?

Yes, a lot of people are suffering from itchy, watery eyes and sneezing right now, and many people have allergies year-round. Also, summer is popular for those itchy rashes, poison ivy, hives and mosquito bites. So, it's a good idea to have an over-the-counter allergy medication or anti-itch medicine on hand. Clairitin can help without causing as much drowsiness.

For fever:

If you or your child has a fever, it's best to stick with acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol (Tylenol capsules, acetaminophen capsules, Children's Tylenol liquid, Children's acetaminophen liquid) or ibuprofen, the active ingredient in Motrin and Advil (Motrin capsules, Advil capsules, ibuprofen capsules, Children's Motrin). Don't give your children aspirin if they have a fever. And of course, keep a thermometer on hand so you can check your temperature (digital oral/rectal thermometer - not mercury).

For pain - certain medications are better for headache as opposed to a sprained ankle:

For routine aches and pains, such as a headache, you can also take acetaminophen, but if you have a sprain or a swollen joint, you may want to choose an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen or naproxen or aspirin (Aleve, naproxen, aspirin).

For Bellyaches: There are so many different types of bellyaches, so how do you know which one to take?

Many times, an upset stomach simply needs to be allowed to rest - meaning a bland diet and clear fluids. But in some cases, you might need to reach for medication. If you have heartburn, good products to have on hand include calcium carbonate, the active ingredient in TUMS (TUMS, generic) or something that contains aluminum or magnesium hydroxide, like Maalox or Mylanta (Maalox, Mylanta). For diarrhea, again, usually treatment isn't necessary. But one product you might want to stock is loperamide or Imodium (Imodium) And if you have youngsters at home, you probably want to stock a re-hydration solution such as Pedialyte or Rehydralyte (Pedialyte), which will be gentle on an upset stomach but give them the salts and fluid they need to stay well-hydrated.

For a boo-boo!

A lot of people use hydrogen peroxide, betadine (Hydrogen Peroxide, Betadine) or other antiseptics to clean cuts and scrapes, but to be honest, some of those solutions can actually delay wound healing, and you're usually better off cleaning a wound with simple soap and water. You can keep an antibiotic ointment on hand, such as Neosporin, or a generic equivalent (Neosporin, triple antibiotic ointment) to treat minor, local infections. And of course, have some band-aids (Bandaids) around, as well as tweezers, a small pair of scissors, rubbing alcohol, and perhaps some cotton balls just in case (tweezers, scissors, cotton balls, rubbing alcohol).

For insect bites and stings:

Try something that many of us keep in our kitchen cabinets - meat tenderizer! It contains an enzyme that breaks down the venomous protein if you get stung by a bee or wasp. Just mix it with a little water to form a paste. You should also keep some hydrocortisone cream around for those itchy insect bites. And calamine lotion can soothe itching or pain from insect bites or rashes.

Be particularly careful if there are young children in your home:

Lock up your medications and keep the phone number of Poison Control in clear view (Poison Control Hotline 1-800-222-1222). Check the expiration dates on your over-the-counter medications, and consider going through the medicine cabinet on a yearly basis to replace anything that's expired.