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THE SAFETY ZONE | Spotlight | JERRY HICKS

Clean Medicine Cabinet Is Rx for Health

October 23, 2000|JERRY HICKS

Needing heartburn relief before dawn recently, I made a sad discovery about my medicine cabinet: It's in such disarray, you can't find anything in there.

In what kind of shape would we find yours?

We all should clean out/downsize/upgrade or otherwise improve the organization of our medicine cabinets at least once a year, pharmaceutical experts tell us.

Jody Jacobson, senior pharmacist at UCI Medical Center in Orange, recently put out a stern report titled "Medicine Cabinet Makeover: Cleaning Out Your Medicine Cabinet Could Save Your Life."

According to Jacobson, most of us have a lot of work to do. Start with medications.

Over-the-counter medications have an expiration date stamped on

them. If it's expired, she says, toss it.

Tubes and bottles more than a year old? Throw them away.

"Some medications change over time, losing their potency or turning into toxic compounds," Jacobson said. For example, if the antibiotic tetracycline degrades, it can cause life-threatening skin disorders.

Jacobson also sharply warns against using old prescription medicines, even if the expiration date is still good.

"People who self-medicate using leftover antibiotics can build resistance to the prescription and mask the symptoms of their new problem," she said.

So it also goes hand in hand: Never give these medicines to friends or family members. Flush them down the toilet.

What else should go: Anything that's cracked or chipped, ripped or dirty. If adhesive tape has turned yellow and sterile gauze is tattered, get rid of it. Toss anything that has changed color or has developed an odor.

Here's a problem with my medicine cabinet: I've got pills and bottles of medication without labels; I think I know what most of them are, but I'm not sure. Adios, the experts tell us. Don't take chances.

So what do you keep? Compare your own medicine cabinet with Jacobson's keeper list:

Anything to prepare for colds or minor mishaps, such as eyewash, laxatives, petroleum jelly, sunscreen, syrup of ipecac, a thermometer, scissors and tweezers (real emphasis on tweezers), cotton balls, antiseptic solution to clean cuts, antacid, antibiotic cream, a cold pack, calamine lotion (for insect bites), bandages, gauze and adhesive tape, and that all-important anti-diarrhea medication.

OK, now here's one I should have known. The one thing

you should not ever keep in a bathroom or kitchen medicine cabinet: medicine!

Here's why, Jacobson says: "The heat and humidity in these rooms can quickly degrade both over-the-counter and prescription drugs."

For example, uncoated tables like aspirin and chewable Amoxicillin break down quickly when combined with moisture.

The University of Pittsburgh Drug Information Center points out in a recent report that too many people overlook the storage instructions on medicine labels. For example, many should go into the refrigerator once opened. And the California Pharmacists Assn. warns that too many people dump separate medicines in a single container in the medicine cabinet. That should never be done.

By the way, an Internet search of medical experts suggests you use a child-proof latch on your medicine cabinet. Or keep it high, out of their reach.

Not that any child could find anything in mine. But mine gets a good cleaning next weekend. How about yours?

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Readers may reach Hicks by calling (714) 966-7789 or e-mail to jerry.hicks@latimes.com

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Stocking Your Medicine Cabinet

The essentials of a well-stocked medicine chest for the treatment and relief of common medical problems:

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