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From Medicine Cabinet to First Aid Kit, Keep It Clean

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Telltale signs that it's time to invest in basic home health and first aid supplies: You cut your finger and can't find a bandage. You've never checked the expiration dates on anything in the medicine cabinet. The emergency kit that some kindly relative once bought is stashed in a box somewhere in the garage rafters.

You can't predict a home health emergency, but you can plan for one. That means having medical and first aid supplies in a central location in your home, out of reach of small children. It's also a good idea to have a backup kit, said Jane Peterson, director of the emergency department at Sherman Oaks Hospital.

``If you have an earthquake and that one room is damaged, have something in the back of the car or the garage just in case,'' Peterson said.

Plan to update your kits and cabinets twice a year. Peterson suggests doing this when the clocks are changed for daylight-saving time.


During your biannual checks, examine all medications - prescription and over-the-counter. Medications can lose potency after the expiration date. If the drug has changed color or smells funny, that's a sign that it should be thrown out.

Don't throw medicines in the trash or down the toilet, which can later be ingested by animals or fish. Check with your local pharmacy or hospital emergency room to see if they'll dispose of old medications for you, Peterson said.


Make sure you refill certain basic over-the-counter products. Annet Arakelian, pharmacist and drug education coordinator for Kaiser Permanente, suggests stocking several pain relievers. Aspirin is an old standby, unless you're allergic or have a condition that makes aspirin use risky. Because aspirin presents a risk for a rare disease called Reye's syndrome in children and teenagers, acetaminophen - in Tylenol, for example - is the better choice for flu or cold symptoms for that age group, she said. Also keep ibuprofen - commonly sold under the names Advil and Motrin - handy, since it serves as an anti-inflammatory medication as well as a pain reliever, Arakelian said.

Other good household staples include antacids and anti-diarrheal medications, she said.

Parents always should check with the family pediatrician before giving any over-the-counter medications to children under the age of 2, said Dr. Robert Flores, chairman of the family practice department at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank.

Flores discourages parents from buying ipecac syrup, a remedy that induces vomiting. Used in cases of accidental poisonings, ipecac is being re-evaluated amid concerns over esophageal tears and the risk of inhaling the poison after vomiting, he said.


After checking your medications, update your emergency contact information. In addition to phone numbers for family members or friends, include a list of medications that you take, the names of your doctors, a description of any major medical problems, and any known allergies to drugs. Firefighters and paramedics typically will look for this information posted inside the bathroom medicine cabinet or next to the front door, said Mike Comer, director of wound care at Sherman Oaks Hospital.


With first aid supplies, consumers have a choice of buying pre-made kits or creating their own. When buying a kit, check the label and make sure it contains a variety of first aid items, said Jeff Edelstein, owner of SOS Survival Products in Van Nuys.

A lot of first aid kits say they contain 350 items,'' Edelstein said.But if 340 are adhesive bandages, that kit is not going to take care of many injuries.''

Include extra water and soap to clean cuts or scrapes. Keep adhesive bandages in various shapes and sizes. Some type of antiseptic, whether an ointment, wipe or spray, is also useful. When using antiseptic cream, apply only a small amount. Globs of cream can create the warm, sticky environment that germs love, Peterson said.

Have some gauze pads and dressings in larger sizes. Rolls of gauze and adhesive tape, either plastic or cloth, are also recommended. Elastic bandages are ideal for sprains and strains. Keep a piece of wood, cardboard or even a magazine folded in half to immobilize an arm - and store a triangular bandage to serve as a sling.

People come into the ER and they're holding the wrist,'' Peterson said.That can cause more damage because the arm is not immobilized.''

For minor burns, gauze pads with burn gel are available. But if a burn is bad enough that it warrants a visit to the doctor or the emergency room, rinse the area with cool water and don't apply any type of salve.

We have to clean all of that off,'' Peterson said.I've seen people come in with tobacco, coffee, mayonnaise, on the burn area. It's horrible trying to get it off.''

Other kit items that Edelstein recommends are hot and cold packs, insect or sting wipes, an eye wash or flushing solution, scissors and tweezers.

I do recommend people take first aid training to use these things properly and efficiently,'' Edelstein said.The more training you have, the more valuable the kit will be.''


(The Los Angeles Daily News web site is at )

c.2003 Los Angeles Daily News

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