Every spring we clean behind the fridge, edit our wardrobes and replace the batteries in our smoke detectors. But many of us remain in the dark when it comes to another home-based necessity begging for attention: the medicine cabinet. An annual review of prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines and hygiene products can help keep us safe and healthy. Using an old product won’t necessary land you in the ER, but it won’t work effectively either, wasting you money, affecting your hygiene or possibly delaying your recovery. Here’s how to spring-clean your medicine cabinet this season.
Step 1: Toss expired medications and products
Pharmacist Tracey Phillips, Rexall‘s national director of pharmacy services, says it’s smart to undertake a medicine-cabinet clear out every spring. To begin, Phillips recommends becoming acquainted with expiry dates’but what do they really mean? ‘The important thing to understand [is the] expiry date really refers to that product unopened, and never used,’ she says. Once you’ve opened a medication, or hygiene product, the clock starts ticking on its shelf life. The simple practice of fishing an Aspirin out of its container, touching an eye drops dispenser to your lashes, or applying paste to a toothbrush introduces germs to these products, which voids the expiry date printed on the package.’
So how long can we keep opened goods even if their expiry is still far in the future? ‘Things are usually good for about a year from when you open [them],’ says Phillips. ‘Write the date you opened it [on the container], or once every year, get rid of all things opened or partially used.’ If you come across an item that has changed colour or smells funny’regardless of expiry or usage’it must be discarded, too. But don’t just toss old medications in the trash. See step three for tips on safe disposal.
Don’t forget to inspect boxes of bandages, too’they have a limited lifespan and should be replaced before their adhesive breaks down.
Step 2: Test medical devices
With expired and opened items set aside for disposal, the next step is to review your medical devices and supplies. ‘If you have a thermometer that is still in working order, that’s okay to keep,’ says Phillips. ‘Blood pressure or glucose monitors change and upgrade all the time so come in [to the pharmacy] and find out what’s new. Bring in [the item], talk to the pharmacist, and see if there’s anything that you might be interested in updating’ You can also ask the pharmacist to check out your tenser bandages and heating pads and let you know if they need to be replaced.
Step 3: Safely discard your medications
A trip to the pharmacy is the safest way to discard of expired medication. According to Phillips, tossing unused medicines into the garbage or flushing them down the toilet can be dangerous. Landfill sites and water supplies become tainted with discarded medicines when people dispose of them in this manner. To avoid the toxic risks associated with such practices, medication ‘should be brought back to the pharmacy for environmentally friendly disposal,’ Phillips advises.
Step 4: Replenish your stock
Phillips pinpoints five medicine-cabinet essentials that should be found in every home, ‘Have the basics: acetaminophen for fevers, aches and pains, something for motion sickness, an anti-diarrheal product, bandages and allergy [medication],’ she recommends. When illness or a mishap strikes, you want these products to be available immediately. ‘Bandages you will need right away,’ says Phillips. ‘In the middle of an allergic reaction, or nausea, vomiting and diarrhea‘it’s not the time to be hopping in the car and going to the store.’
Step 5: Think about storage
Now that you’ve restocked your essentials, take a moment to rethink where you keep your medical supplies. Contrary to popular belief, if you stash your headache remedies and vitamins in a bathroom cabinet, relocation is a must. Humidity from steamy showers can expedite the expiry of medication. To prevent their loss of effectiveness, it’s best to keep them in a dry, cool place. ‘Store your medication in an airtight container’like a plastic bin’on a high shelf in a linen or bedroom closet away from kids,’ Phillips says. The exception to the outside-the-bathroom rule? Frequently used hygiene products. ‘Anything you’re using up within two to three months, there’s no problem in storing it in your bathroom. Deodorant, skin cream and toothpaste are fine to keep in the bathroom because they’re not going to last [a long time],’ she says. And forget that myth about the refrigerator. ‘People think if they put [a product] in the fridge, it will last longer,’ says Phillips, ‘that is actually not true. Your fridge is full of humidity.’ Unless your product specifically says it should be kept in the fridge, it’s best not to do so.
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