CUTS, SCRAPES AND ITCHY RASHES. Fevers, headaches, coughs and colds. Normal family boo-boos. You can start the healing with a hug and a kiss. But if that's not enough, you can head for your bandy stash of over-the-counter medicines and choose a remedy that'll patch, soothe or cure. Are you prepared for life's little traumas?
Here are the essential items that Erica Liebelt, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics and medical toxicologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, recommends you keep on hand and how to use them safely.
You can't even think about filling your medicine cabinet without first thinking about who's going to have access to those medicines and how you're going to keep them from getting into the wrong hands. Not just prescription drugs, but even medicines that are bought over the counter have the potential to harm.
To protect your family, follow these safety measures from Dr. Liebelt, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission and other poison control experts.
* Keep all medicines out of children's sight, preferably in closets or cabinets with special child-protection safety latches. That includes all over-the-counter medicines and especially iron pills and prenatal vitamin supplements containing iron. Estimates show that ingesting adult doses of iron pills accounts for 20 percent to 25 percent of poisoning deaths in children younger than the age of 6.
* Don't expect a foul odor or taste to keep kids from swallowing a medicine. Children's senses aren't as well developed as adults' senses, so what's yucky to you may still end up in your child's mouth.
* Keep medicines in their original containers and leave the labels intact.
* Read all directions for taking a medicine, even if it means using your glasses to see the tiny print.
* Make sure you use only the recommended dosages. That's especially important when it comes to children, says Susanne Ogaitis, MSPH, assistant director for external affairs at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, Md. "For example, accidentally taking more than the recommended amount of cough medicine may not hurt an adult, but it can be harmful for children."
* Avoid taking medicines in front of your children. Kids like to imitate grown-ups.
* Never refer to medicine as candy, says Dr. Liebelt.
* Carefully put child-resistant caps back on medicine bottles.
* Never leave young children alone with an opened bottle of medicine. If a doorbell or phone rings while you're in the midst of taking a drug, take the kids with you.
* Keep the telephone number of the poison control center on your refrigerator door. Add it to your telephone rapid-dial system.
* Place any handbags containing medications out of sight and reach of children.
* "Flush old medicines down the toilet," says Ogaitis. Rinse the bottles out before throwing them away. "Then you know they won't get into the wrong hands."
Make a List
Before you begin to add new supplies, do an inventory of what you already have. "First task, throw out any medicines that have passed their expiration dates," says Dr. Liebelt. "They lose their potency so they won't act as they should." Get rid of any with missing labels, too. And throw out any that show signs of deterioration. "Look for tablets that have become powdery or discolored. If you see any sediment in liquid medicine or it appears cloudy when it should be dear, throw it out," says Dr. Liebelt. "If a medicine, cream or ointment smells `funny,' it should be thrown out."
Although most people store their medicines in the bathroom--that's where the medicine cabinet is, after all--that's not the best place, says Dr. Liebelt. "Bathrooms become humid after you bathe, and that can cause medicines to deteriorate more quickly. If that's your only option, put your medicines in plastic bags to protect them from moisture." Your best bet: Store your medicines in a locked box within a linen or bedroom closet. OK, now you're ready to stock up with the medicines and products you need, says Dr. Liebelt.
* Antibiotic cream or ointment, for minor cuts and scrapes.
* Antibiotic soap. To clean minor wounds.
* Hydrocortisone cream for minor itches and rashes.
* Petroleum jelly. May be used in place of antibiotic ointment for minor cuts.
* Aspirin. For pain and fever in adults only, says Dr. Liebelt. "We don't give aspirin to children, especially those younger than the age of 12. Studies show that aspirin given for a viral infections such as flu and chicken pox, may lead to a potentially fatal condition called Reye's Syndrome," says Dr. Liebelt.
* Acetaminophen. Recommended instead of aspirin as a pain and fever reducer, especially for children, says Dr. Liebelt.
* Ibuprofen. A nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicine used to reduce inflammation, pain and fever in adults. But it's also available now in children's strength as a liquid suspension, chewable tablets and infant drops, says Dr. Liebelt. It's especially useful for minor trauma, such as a sprained ankle or broken arm because it's an anti-inflammatory.
* Syrup of ipecac. To induce vomiting in poisoning emergencies. "Don't give your child syrup of ipecac unless the poison control center or your health care provider specifically tells you to," says Andrea Gielen, Sc.D., deputy director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. "Giving it for the wrong kind of poison, can make the poisoned person worse," adds Dr. Liebelt.
* Decongestants and cough medicines. For adults only. "They're not recommended for children," says Dr. Liebelt, "because they don't work in kids and they can cause side effects such as sleepiness, hyperactivity, and increased heart rate and blood pressure."
* An antihistamine. For allergic skin reactions and itching.
* Antidiarrheal. For adults only. In children, they can cause side effects and possibly make the disease more serious.
* Lozenges. For minor sore throats and irritation.
* Antacid. Generally for adults, but also for adolescents and children under the advice of their doctor.
* Calamine lotion. For itchy mosquito and other insect bites.
* Epi-pen. An epinephrine injector for selected individuals who are highly allergic, says Dr. Liebelt. Your doctor must prescribe it for you
Besides having a well-stocked medicine cabinet, it's also helpful to have a handy first-aid kit that has a few essentials all in one neat carrying case. You may want to consider keeping one in your house and one in your car. Erica Liebelt, M.D., and Susanne Ogaitis, MSPH, suggest the following items.
* Antibiotic cream, lotion or spray.
* Sterile gauze and adhesive tape.
* Syrup of ipecac.
* Chemical ice pack.
* Wound closure tapes.
* Hydrocortisone cream.
* Thermometer, rectal for babies and oral for everyone else. The newer in-the-ear varieties also work well.
* First-aid handbook.
* Emergency phone numbers such as your doctor, hospital, ambulance, poison control center, fire and police.
COPYRIGHT 1999 Meredith Corporation