Essential Medical Items


While traversing the blogosphere, I saw this article up on the Chicago Tribune Health Blog about what should be the “Essential Items for Your Medicine Cabinet.”

Included are things such as gauze, tape, thermometer, alcohol wipes, antihistamines, and decongestants.

Then I got to thinking. What are the essentials in my medicine cabinet? Many of the things on the Chicago Tribune list are included. I didn’t see the need for some of them … like the thermometer. If your fever is 101 or 104 does it make a difference? You’re going to take Motrin. I also think that other essentials need to be added.

Here’s my list …

Gauze. Lots of it. It always seems like that when bleeding starts, it doesn’t want to stop. You can use it to clean stuff out of wounds and to dress the wounds.
ACE bandages. Can hold the gauze in place and apply pressure to stop the bleeding. Also useful to apply pressure to sprains/strains, etc.
QR Powder or something similar. When gauze and pressure won’t stop bleeding, this stuff is a good backup. You can get it over the counter.
Tape. The cloth or “silk” tape is the best. I carry tape with me in my truck and in my backpack. You’ll need something to attach the dressings to the skin, right? Cloth or silk tape can also be twisted up to form pretty strong “MacGyver” twine in a pinch.
Crazy Glue. Not medical advice, but the “glue” that doctors use to fix cuts is quite similar to Crazy Glue. There is also a “liquid Band-Aid” you can get over the counter.
Hemostats. You can get them online fairly cheaply and they come in handy for a lot of things. These are similar to the instruments that doctors use to put in stitches. Alligator forceps are incredibly useful for getting things out of tight places. Some doctors use them to get things out of noses and ears.
Saline Solution. You can use the eye solution to rinse stuff out of your eyes and can even use it in a pinch to clean out wounds if you don’t have running water. I also keep a can of Wound Wash Saline in my truck.
Trauma Shears. One of those “don’t leave home without them” things for me. Again, you can get them very cheap online. Here’s one site.
Tweezers. For pulling out my nasal hairs.
Nasal decongestant. Either Afrin or Neo-Synephrine or their generic equivalents.
Nasal Rinse Kit. I love these things and they work better than any medicine your doctor can prescribe to you for sinus pain or congestion.
Naphcon-A. An eye decongestant/anti-histamine. Either it or it’s generic equivalent is great for most causes of itchy or irritated eyes.
Benadryl. Can be used for allergic reactions and is also an ingredient in several sleep aids.
Hydrocortisone cream. Helps stop itching on irritated skin.
Zanfel Poison Ivy Cream. This stuff is expensive. There are other less expensive generic brands at most pharmacies.
Pain reliever(s) of choice.
Antiseptic wipes/gel.

Anything I’m missing?


  1. Isopropryl Alcohol & maybe smelling salts…. I have pretty much everything else on your list however I would recommend you use the tweezers for splinters & get special trimmers for your nose! Ouch! Glad to see you’re still writing of course…I haven’t been able to gather all my wits just yet but will eventually get back in the game.

      • I know you were kidding– just wanted to give you a shot. I like your new place BTW. I’m sure this will increase your number of cyberfans. And before I go, that gravatar IS my dog Zoe. 90 pounds of fur & love. She’s good company right now…

  2. Not really a “medicine cabinet” item per se, but a freezable ice pack for all those bruises, bumps and twisted ankles. Of course you can make one yourself but who wants to do this in our convenience-item society?

    • A package of frozen peas or corn bought at the supermarket frozen food section is a quick substitute for a ice pack.

  3. Rubbing alcohol and calamine lotion.

    Calamine lotion got me through this past summer with my sanity intact. (How can I be immune to poison oak and poison ivy, but break out when rose thorns and english ivy touch my skin???)

  4. I have all of those, plus:

    Peroxide and Isopropyl Alcohol
    aloe vera gel
    Solarcaine burn spray (but also good for cuts and stings– I have a 4 year old who regularly skins his knees)
    qtips and 2x2s
    non-stick 4×4 pads
    splinter removers

    Not only am I a nursing student, my husband works on an air ambulance for the Army AND he got me a huge Red Cross first Aid kit before he deployed. I have everything you can imagine in my medicine cabinets. Yes, cabinetS.

    • Neat idea. And they are individually packaged so you can throw them in your glove compartment or purse, too. Thanks!

  5. Hmm.. trying to keep it in the ‘essential’ department.
    I would include a needle along with the tweezers. Sometimes tweezers don’t do the trick. I use a needle, or a safety pin to remove splinters.

  6. You missed:

    store brand of Mucinex – this plus the decongestant should reduce the risk of the congestion from a cold resulting in a bacterial sinus infection

    TWO types of decongestant – one for day and one for night. i use pseudoephedrine during the day and the Sudafed PE product at night.

    Store brand of Alleve – this works better than anything topical when I have a sore throat.


    • We have an epi-pen in our cabinet, but not everyone has anaphylaxis and you need a prescription to get them.
      Essential item if you’re prone to severe allergic reactions, though.

  7. 3M Vet wrap (or its generic equivalent). My dad is on chronic anticoagulation and bleeds quite a bit, often in rather hard-to-wrap places. The vet wrap is stretchy, sticks to itself and can be cut in a variety of ways. Perfect for keeping pressure and a 4 x 4 of gauze or whatever size gauze. It comes in an array of pretty colors too. It can be found online or at any feed store or Tractor Supply…places like that.

    • Also known as Co-Ban or Co-Flex.

      It is pressure sensitive, so if it is in a portable kit, it’s a good idea to store it in a crush resistant case so it doesn’t get ruined. I’ve found that a heavy duty cardboard tube cut to length will protect it quite well.

    • I updated MadRocketScientist’s comment with a link. We don’t use this stuff too often in the ED, but I see where it could come in handy as you described.
      Thanks for the idea!

  8. What would he need an epi-pen for?

    The only additions I would make would be a #10 scalpel and some promethazine in your choice of formulation.

  9. Just wondering if most of you still have your medicine cabinets in your washroom and why?

    I would include a laminated basic first aid instruction in the cabinet (maybe fastened on the back of the door).

  10. 1000ml 0.9%NS, 20gtt set, 20g Jelco.
    Indications: Hangover, Vomiting, Diarrhea. Contraindications: Pulmonary Edema, Trying to stick yourself.

  11. My medicine drawer consists of

    Vitamin E oil to put on to cuts, spots, burns or grazes (I’m always burning or cutting myself)
    Plasters/dressings (Ditto above brackets)
    A thermometer
    Something stronger than asprin/paracetemol (For after drinking too much)
    Antacids (Often ditto above brackets!)
    Sudafed pills and nasal decongestant spray
    Something to make me poo and something to stop me pooing
    Corsodyl for those nasty sore spots on the tongue!

  12. Does OTC Crazy Glue actually work? I read that it was too brittle to actually work on skin — the difference between Dermabond and Crazy glue is that it is more flexible.

    I keep dermabond in the bathroom. Also (I have kids) nose pinchers for nosebleeds.

    • It works when I have used it. Indermil is another skin adhesive that is more rigid than Dermabond – has about the same consistency as Crazy Glue gel when it dries.

  13. Pingback: EM Physician’s Suggestion for Your Medicine Cabinet « The ACUTE CARE Blog: Non-Urban Emergency Medicine

  14. Chewable or liquid Benadryl works a bit faster if you are prone to immediate allergic reactions to things.

    I also like liquid cold medications because you can adjust the dosage down so you get some relief but aren’t zonked out.

  15. RE: the thermometer. my dad always used that as a test to see if I was sick enough to stay home from school. 100 or over–I got the day off. 99–out of luck, kid.

    Isn’t it good to have one to see if your fever is severe enough to seek medical attention?

  16. I usually have some Oragel and topical antibiotic ointment. Polysporin’s fine, but the generic stuff is good too. Both have been handy with my two boys. If you have braces, or have to wear a dental appliance, you always have Oragel around.

  17. Phenergan. Not for the average Joe but I never travel without it! Just say no to uncontrollable puking after eating in the local dive while traveling to exotic foreign places like hmmmm the mall.

  18. Charlie the Brit on

    Question: why so many versions of anti-histmaines? Just curious! Hope you don’t mind the question.

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