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How a pediatric ER doc stocks her medicine cabinet for cold + flu season 😷

Here's what to keep, what to toss and what to get now.

medicine cabinet must haves checklist
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When was the last time you checked your medicine cabinet? Now is the time to do that, if you haven't. I usually check mine in September with the end of summer.

As children start returning to school, the spread of viruses inevitably starts to pick up as kids mingle with other kids. Even though back-to-school is different this year, there is still likely to be some exposure to viral illnesses.

I choose the Labor Day holiday to make it easier for me to remember every year to declutter and update my medicine cabinet using my fall and winter medication checklist.

Here's how to stock your medicine cabinet for flu + cold season, and why you should.


4 reasons to check your medicine cabinet every season

1. To get rid of expired medications

Here's some mom truth: I had expired fever medications in my medicine cabinet and realized it only after I gave my daughter a dose and she didn't feel better. Luckily, according to poison control, many drugs are probably effective after their expiration date, but are not tested to be sure, so it's safest to discard them immediately when they are expired.

2. To swap out first aid supplies for summer injuries in favor of fall + winter viruses

When the weather changes, the prevalent illnesses and injuries our kids experience change too. We may have needed more bandages, cold packs and ointment for the summer but now we need supplies to help with the recurrent colds that are about to set in.

3. To refill medications

As an emergency room pediatrician, I already know we get busier in the winter—and that means my daughter's pediatrician's office will be too. Checking my medication kit early in the season helps me request necessary refills early so I don't run out or have any flare-ups requiring last-minute requests.

4. To adjust medications by weight

I think my kids grow the most in summer (maybe yours do, too). So I get their pediatrician to adjust their meds by age at the beginning of the school year. This is definitely recommended for all kids but especially kids with daily medications.

Medicine cabinet essentials for flu + cold season

You don't necessarily need to get rid of your summer home health kit, you just need to recheck and update it. What you will stock up on will depend on the ages of your children and any medical conditions they have.

Here's a list of what I keep in my medicine cabinet and an added list of recommendations I've made based on my experience in the emergency room. (Note that this list is for education only. Ask your doctor if this list is ideal for your child.)

Fever + pain control

Children's acetaminophen + ibuprofen: Every home needs to have one or both of these.

Most people, including kids, get sicker and spike fevers at night. This is because our immune system, which gets activated to help fight infection follows a circadian rhythm; that means it tends to fight more at night and hence manifests as fever and looking sicker. Unfortunately, most stores are closed at night so if you have no meds, you are likely to end up at urgent care or making a panicky call to your pediatrician.

The dose your child should take is based on weight and NOT age. Be sure to confirm with your pediatrician what the optimal dose for your child would be.

Remember to NOT use ibuprofen if your child is younger than 6 months old.

Cough + cold relief

There's almost no fall and winter without colds and cough.

If you feel like your kid can't stop sniffing or coughing once school starts, or if you have ever made multiple visits to the clinic or emergency room in a season, you are not alone. The average toddler gets about 10-12 colds in a year. Fortunately, this number slowly decreases as kids get older with teens averaging about 5-7 colds per year.

That said, don't go on a shopping spree for cold meds. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend the use of over-the-counter cough + cold medicines for children under age 4, and suggests that children ages 4-6 only use OTC cold meds under your doctor's supervision.

Most of the time, all you need is reassurance, time and soothing cold and cough therapies such as extra hydration, a humidifier in the child's room or honey as directed:

Honey dosage for cold + cough relief for kids:

  • Do not give honey to babies under one year—it is not safe.
  • For children ages 1 to 5 years: Try half a teaspoon of honey.
  • For children ages 6 to 11: Try 1 teaspoon of honey.
  • For children 12 or older: Try 2 teaspoons of honey.

Dry skin + eczema care

As the weather becomes colder and drier, skin tends to dry out too. For kids with eczema, this means a likely flare-up, but even kids without an eczema diagnosis may experience uncomfortably dry and itchy skin. Frequent and generous moisturizing is needed to keep them comfortable.

Kids with more severe eczema may need more than moisturizing to prevent excessive itching that could cause skin breakdown. Steroid creams are recommended in this case. If your child develops a skin breakdown from excessive itching, a topical antibiotic, such as bacitracin (avoid Neosporin for its risk of allergies) may help prevent infection.

Burn care

You might be surprised by how often burn care comes up in pediatricians' offices during the winter. But it's no surprise that when the weather gets colder, everyone wants a hot drink, hot soup or other hot foods—which can increase the risk of burns.

Proper treatment of burns depends on the extent of the injury, but it's smart to stock up on some supplies for initial care for mild burns:

  • Moist gauze
  • Bandages
  • Antibiotic cream

Fall + winter medicine cabinet must-haves: A checklist

For fever

  • Acetaminophen (pills and children's suspension)
  • Ibuprofen (pills and children's suspension)
  • Thermometer

For cough + cold

  • Nasal saline spray or drops
  • Honey (not for use in kids less than 1 year of age)
  • Nasal suction bulb or tube
  • Antihistamines: I recommend either cetirizine (Zyrtec) or Loratadine (Claritin). Benadryl causes drowsiness: Avoid use unless advised by your doctor.
  • Afrin spray (for older kids and not to be used for more than 3 days)
  • Vicks rub (for older kids)
  • Cool mist humidifier (not a hot humidifier)

For eczema + skin care

  • Hydrocortisone cream, 1%
  • Triamcinolone, a topical prescription cream that can reduce redness, swelling and itchiness for children with eczema.
  • Vaseline
  • Aquaphor
  • Antibiotic cream such as bacitracin (avoid Neosporin for its risk of causing allergies)

Additional home supplies

  • Thermometer
  • Measuring tape (for measuring height)
  • Medication dispenser (syringes or cups or dropper)
  • Gauze and bandages
  • Vaseline (for moisturizing the skin around a runny nose)

For specific medical histories

Asthma:

  • Albuterol MDI refills
  • Asthma controller medicines (Flovent, Qvar, Dulera etc.)
  • Singulair (Montelukast)
  • Spacer
  • Nebulizer (if needed)

Diabetes:

  • Insulin medications with syringes
  • Glucose check strips (if without pumps)
  • Lancets
  • Urine test strips

Allergies + Anaphylaxis

  • Epipen and refills

Remember to check in with your doctor to see if this list is ideal for you, and be sure to store your medications safely away from kids. Store in locked cabinets or boxes kept in high locations where kids can't reach.

This post was first published on the author's website.

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