Latent Threats Inside Your Medicine Chest

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The medicine chest is, of course, the proper place in which to store drugs that have just been bought over the counter or prescribed recently by a doctor. But inside that same medicine chest, leftover medicines may also be present. Some families keep unused portions of medicines prescribed earlier by their doctor in their medicine chest.

Such remedies that are readily available at home may be important in emergency situations. However, they may also be a source of danger, and this is especially true when there are children in the family. Young children may be tempted to sample what the bottles in the medicine chest contain. It is easy for these children to obey their natural impulse and put in their mouths objects that are new or do not resemble something formerly known to them. This is actually the first real danger lurking constantly in the medicine chest.

The second hazard hiding inside the medicine chest involves gross errors by adults resulting usually from their carelessness. There are cases when a bottle of medicine has been placed in a position different from usual; or in other instances, two bottles in the medicine chest may look alike. One of the rules laid down for nurses at hospitals is that they should look carefully at the label when they take a bottle of medicine from the shelf and again when they replace it. It is best for adults to follow this same rule at home.

Still in some other instances, labels on medicine bottles come off. In such cases, medicines in unlabeled bottles should be promptly (and properly) discarded. Here’s another “rule” to follow: “Better waste the cost of a half-filled bottle of medicine than to risk making a guess.”

Repeated practice of keeping in the medicine chest leftover medicines from a prescription is dangerous. A medicine chest that is cluttered with bottles and cartons with a few capsules or pills is a virtual danger zone at home. As long as medicines lie around, someone at home may take it inadvertently.

Sometimes, an illness makes the rounds in a family. Someone in that family who has been earlier prescribed a medicine for the illness may make the mistake of offering that same medicine to another family member simply because the latter has symptoms that appear to be similar to what the former used to have.

This is dangerous because different illnesses can cause similar symptoms, and the medicine used to treat the set of symptoms of a particular illness may be harmful if the other set of symptoms are due to a different illness. Here, the rule to follow is quite simple: Don’t share medicines; if symptoms similar to those you have experienced occur in anyone else in your family, get him or her to see a doctor.


1. Health Topics: “Medicine Cabinet Safety Guidelines,” on the University of Iowa Health Care (online)

2. “Medicine Cabinet Safety (HTML),” on Advance for Nurses (online)


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