You and Your Health: Spring Clean the Medicine Cabinet

Spring is the season of change with many people decluttering and freshening up the house. But how many of us turn our attention to cleaning out the medicine cabinet, drawer or shelf?

Now that winter ailments are (finally) starting to wane, what better time to assess and restock your self-help supplies to help spruce up your health routine for 2020.

From headaches to hayfever, having a range of over-the-counter medicines readily available at home, and being mindful not to stockpile your prescribed medication, means you can help save money for both yourself and the NHS.

Check expiry dates:

There will be lots of homes in South Yorkshire that have had the same medicines in the cupboard for years. But have you ever considered that taking out of date medication can be ineffective or even harmful?

You wouldn’t drink milk that is a week out of date, so why take painkillers that expired in the ‘90s.

This goes for ointments, supplements and vitamins, too. Discard any item that is beyond its expiration date and any prescribed medication that is more than a year old.

Regardless of the expiration date, discard any items that have changed colour, taste or smell.

Safe storage:

Medicines should be stored as per the instructions, usually in a cool, dry place. Keeping medicines in the bathroom isn’t recommended due to the humidity.

If you have small children, keep all medicines out of reach, preferably in a high cupboard or somewhere that can be locked. 

Always leave your medication in the container it came in and discard items that have been removed from their original packaging. This is so you know what the medication is, who it was prescribed for, instructions for use, side effects and the expiry date. Packaging also helps protect medicines against contamination and improve shelf life.

Dispose correctly:

Never throw medicines down the sink or toilet as they can be harmful to the environment. Similarly, don’t throw them in the bin as they could come into contact with children or animals – or into the wrong hands.

Don’t share your medication with anyone else. Even unopened medicines cannot be recycled or reused once they have left the pharmacy.

You can return unwanted or unused medication to your local pharmacy for safe disposal whether they have been opened or not. This includes any previous medications you may have had if your prescription has recently changed.

All pharmacies will have a DOOP bin for pharmaceutical waste, however they cannot accept needles, syringes or finger-pricking devices which need to be put in a special sharps bin that is collected from your home by the council.

Think before you tick:

As much as £300million is wasted every year on unused or partially used medication. This could be used to fund 11,778 more community nurses, 19,799 more drug treatments for breast cancer, or 80,906 more hip replacements.

Don’t stockpile your medication; check what you have left at home before re-ordering your repeat prescription. Don’t feel like you must tick everything on the repeat list. If you don’t require them, or don’t take them anymore, leave it till next time.

Most pharmacies offer a free Medicines Check Up Service which focuses on increasing your knowledge of the medicines you take, why you take them and how you can take them more easily.

This service is helpful for you if you are taking multiple medicines, particularly for long term conditions such as asthma and other lung conditions (such as COPD, chronic bronchitis and emphysema); diabetes; high blood pressure; and conditions where the medicine controls the way your blood clots (anticoagulants or antiplatelet medication).

You may benefit from speaking to the pharmacist if you are not sure how and when to take your medicines, i.e. before or after food, in the morning or evening. You can also gain clarity around what your medicines do, any side-effects you are experiencing and why your symptoms are not under control, particularly if you have been on the same medicines for a long period of time.

Restock supplies:

After you have decluttered your previous collection, try and keep an up-to-date supply of OTC remedies at home to help easily treat minor ailments without the need to see your doctor.

Some basic items include:

  • Painkillers

For help with everything from headaches to period pain and cheap to buy at pharmacies or supermarkets. If you have young children, keep a bottle of liquid paracetamol and ibuprofen on hand for fevers, teething pain and general pain or viral infections.

  • Antihistamines

For allergies, insect bites and hayfever. Some may cause drowsiness so ask your pharmacist if you are unsure. If you are prescribed an inhaler, keep it in an accessible place.

  • Indigestion relief

Antacids neutralise stomach acid and are available in chewable, liquid or dissolvable form

  • Rehydration salts

Useful to replace minerals and salts lost through sickness and diarrhoea to prevent dehydration

  • Anti-diarrhoea tablets

Controls symptoms quickly by slowing down gut action, commonly loperamide (Imodium etc)