Medicine Cabinet Essentials for Busy Families

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Do you have all the basics on hand when treating a minor illness or injury at home?

A well-stocked medicine cabinet is key when responding quickly after an injury or in the middle of the night. 

There are no specific rules on what to have available. Obviously, your children’s age plays an important role in deciding what is necessary to keep in the house.

Here is my list of “must haves”:

Emergency contact numbers

Type a list of all-important phone numbers including yours, your child’s doctor, a trusted neighbor, and poison control, and stick it inside the cabinet door. This is peace of mind when your children are home with a sitters or family member.


There are several different types of thermometers out there. Which kind to buy depends on the child’s age.

Digital multiuse thermometers

Under 3 to 6 months: The most accurate way of checking your child’s temperature is rectally. A rectal temperature reading of 100.4 or more is considered a fever. If your baby is younger than 3 months, consult your doctor immediately.

Older than 6 months: Checking the temperature in the armpit (axillary) is acceptable. Overall temperatures measured with the axillary method are less accurate. If temperature reading is between 99°F and 100.3, but you think your child has a fever, you might want to confirm with a rectal measurement for infants and children up to the age of 3.

Older than 4 years: Can start checking temperatures orally.

Always pay attention to which kind of thermometer you have on hand. Rectal and oral thermometers have slightly different shapes and should not be used interchangeably.

Digital ear thermometers

Approved for use in children older than 6 months. Readings could be affected by earwax in the ear canal, but not by ear tubes or ear infections. Overall the most inaccurate method.

Temporal artery thermometers

Approved for use in children older than 6 months. Considered very accurate.

Please never use a mercury thermometer due to the potential exposure to mercury if the thermometer breaks.  

Petroleum Jelly

Use to lubricate the thermometer before checking a rectal temperature or over cuts and scrapes to keep the surface moist.

Antibacterial soap

Use running water and soap to clean an open wound. May use a clean, wet washcloth to carefully remove any dirt or debris remaining after properly irrigating with water.  

No need to use hydrogen peroxide, iodine, or rubbing alcohol as these could be irritating to the skin.


Buy different size gauzes (including nonstick), cotton balls/swabs, sterile tape, and all sizes of adhesive bandages.

Consider getting ACE bandages as well which could be used for sprains and strains but also to keep gauzes in place when dealing with big wounds.

Heat and ice packs 

Good for headaches, muscular pain, and sprains. 

Scissors and tweezers

For cutting dressings to the correct size, cutting medical tape, and removing splinters and ticks.

Alcohol wipes:

Use to clean the skin around an open wound, on the skin before removing a splint, and to sterilize your rectal thermometer, tweezers, and scissors. It is safer than having rubbing alcohol which is very toxic if accidentally swallowed.

Medicine dropper or oral syringe

Use to give medications for infants and toddlers.

Saline drops

Great for nasal congestion due to colds or allergies. Have a nasal aspirator (bulb syringe) if using for a baby or young child who can’t blow his/her nose yet.

Rehydrating electrolyte solution

Pedialyte for infants, toddlers, and young children.

Gatorade or Powerade for older children.

Fever and pain medicine 

Acetaminophen- not for children under 3 months unless recommended by your child’s doctor. 

Ibuprofen- not for children younger than 6 months or for kids who are actively vomiting and dehydrated.

Remember: children should NEVER EVER take aspirin because of the risk of Reye Syndrome

****** Not sure what’s the dose for acetaminophen or ibuprofen? No problem I’ve got you covered! Check out the blog’s dosage calculator. ******


Great for itchy rashes, insect bites, hives, and allergic reactions. If your child is having a serious allergic reaction, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

Antibiotic ointment 

Use for cuts, scrapes, scratches, insect bites, and at the first sign of infection for a kid prone to boils.

Get over the counter Neosporin or Triple Antibioc or ask your pediatrician for a prescription for Bactroban (mupirocin).

Anti-itch cream

Over the counter Hydrocortisone cream can be used on itchy rashes and insect bites. Don’t use on face unless recommended by your physician. If you can stop the itch you will hopefully prevent a secondary bacterial infection.

Calamine lotion and Sarna Anti-Itch lotion are other options for itching.  

Diaper rash cream:

A must for babies with sensitive skin. My favorite over the counter cream is Triple Paste. I also like Aquaphor.  If your baby is prone to yeast diaper rashes, ask for a prescription for Nystatin to have on hand.

Cough and cold medicine

These could cause serious side effects and are not recommended for children under age 2. 

From age 2 to 6- use only if recommended by your child’s doctor.

After age 6- is safe to use, follow the directions on the package

Prescription medication

Keep track of all prescription medication refills and expiration dates. Call your doctor if running low. Don’t wait until you need it. This is especially important for asthmatic and epileptic children.

Now a days most allergy medicines are over the counter. Ask your primary care provider for the appropriate dosages if giving to a young child. If your child has severe food or insect bite allergies, always make sure to have an EpiPen double pack available.