Medicine Cabinet

When you stock your pantry, don’t forget to stock up on supplies for your medicine cabinet, too. It’s important to have the essentials at home — especially during flu season and the ongoing pandemic. That way you’re covered when you can’t get to a pharmacy.

A well-stocked medicine cabinet can ensure you have the supplies you’ll need to get well and stay well. Here are some tips for how best to stock your medicine cabinet.

Make a List of What You Have

Before you go shopping, go through what medicine and first aid supplies you have at home.

Check the expiration dates

Medicines can lose their strength and purity over time. An expiration date shows how long a drug remains stable based on the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Get rid of unused and old prescriptions

Once you’re done using a prescription pain medicine, don’t keep it. Abuse of prescription pain medicine is fueling overdose deaths in the United States, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Be sure to dispose of any medicines properly. Pharmaceuticals can pollute lakes and drinking water, so don’t flush them down the toilet unless that’s on the disposal instructions.

The safest way to dispose of drugs is by dropping them off at a Take Back Day program. Many pharmacies also offer drug return bins, which are a great option for all kinds of medicines. Any medicines without specific disposal instructions can go into the trash if you follow these steps:

  1. Mix the medicines with inedible substances, such as dirt or cat litter
  2. Put the mixture in a sealed plastic bag or other container
  3. Throw the bag or container into your trash

Check that medical devices work

You don’t want to find out that your thermometer doesn’t work when you need it most. Buy replacement batteries and store them with the device.

Never Miss a Beat!

Get Healthy Tips Sent to Your Phone!

Message and data rates may apply. Text the word STOP to opt out and HELP for help. Click here to view the privacy and terms.

Shop Wisely

Once you know what you already have, the best time to stock up on needed supplies is now. Don’t wait until you’re sick and can’t get out of the house. Here’s what you should be sure to have on hand:

Over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers

Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium — all over-the-counter (OTC) non- steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — can help reduce fever. It’s good to have at least two types on hand. Your doctor may recommend alternating between them if your fever is persistent. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found no scientific evidence connecting the use of NSAIDs with worsening COVID-19 symptoms.

You should not take aspirin when you have a fever. This could result in a fatal condition known as Reye’s syndrome.

Aspirin can be an effective pain reliever in the absence of fever. If you call 911 during a suspected heart attack, you may be advised to chew a 325 mg aspirin. This may help prevent dangerous clotting before the ambulance arrives.

Antidiarrheal medicines

Viral illnesses, especially the highly contagious nororvirus, often cause diarrhea.


Fevers are a sure sign of illness, particularly influenza and COVID-19. In general, oral thermometers are the most accurate. To find a reliable thermometer that works for you, read the reviews of thermometers for kids and adults from Wirecutter.

Prescription and over-the-counter medicines

Whenever possible, have at least a 30-day supply of all medicines on hand. This includes both OTC and prescription medicines. For prescriptions taken regularly, consider getting a 90-day supply if your insurance allows it.

Read all prescription labels. If you don’t have refills left, contact your doctor’s office now. The MyUPMC app makes it easy to do.

A pulse oximeter

With any serious respiratory illness, including COVID-19, your oxygen levels can drop. Low oxygen levels put you at risk for serious complications. They can even be fatal.

A pulse oximeter can help manage the symptoms of COVID-19. It’s a small device that clips onto your finger to measure your oxygen level and heart rate. A healthy oxygen level is 95% or higher.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition, such as asthma, your normal reading may be lower. It’s important to know what level is normal for you.

If you get an oxygen reading below 95%, call your doctor. Regardless of the reading, if you feel short of breath or have difficulty breathing, contact your doctor or call 911.

A first aid kit

You can buy a pre-assembled first aid kit at a pharmacy or online. The American Red Cross has specific recommendations on what should be in a well-stocked first aid kit. They also recommend you keep a first aid kit in every car.

A typical first aid kit contains items such as:

  • Bandages
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Tweezers
  • Sterile nonlatex gloves

Store Supplies Safely

After you purchase the supplies you need, it’s important to store them safely. Your bathroom medicine cabinet may not be the best place to keep certain drugs. Heat and humidity can degrade the quality and potency of your medicines.

Read the label to find out the best conditions for storing your medicines. You may need to convert a portion of a closet into a medicine cabinet. Be sure to follow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Up and Away guidelines to keep medicine and pharmaceuticals out of reach of children and pets.

Download the MyUPMC app

The MyUPMC app puts all your health information, including your medicine list, at your fingertips. With the MyUPMC app, you can:

  • Schedule an appointment with your doctor
  • View your test results
  • Message your doctor
  • Renew your prescriptions
  • Pay your bill

To register for a MyUPMC account, go to or download the app from the App Store or Google Play.

Prepare Your Health. Emergency Preparedness, Response and COVID-19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link.

Preparing Your Medicine Cabinet for an Emergency: A Checklist. CDC. Link.

Amelia Nierenberg. How Should You Stock Your Medicine Cabinet? April 27, 2020. The New York Times. Link.

Tara Parker -Pope. What's a Pulse Oximeter and Do I Really Need One at Home? April 24, 2020. The New York Times. Link.

Your Prescription Medicine: Tips for Safe Storage and Disposal. CDC. Link.

Kimberly Holland. Is My Blood Oxygen Level Normal? Sept. 27, 2019. Healthline. Link.

FDA Advises Patients on the Use of Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS) for COVID-19. Press Release. March 19, 2020. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Link.

Aspirin and Heart Disease. American Heart Association. Link.

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.