Updated 03 July 2013

Your medicine chest

How does one keep medicines safely out of reach in a home environment? What can you do to stop your toddler from eating a handful of vitamin tablets?


Most women have an assortment of remedies at hand, whether they are deliberately stocked up, or leftovers from previous bouts of illness or infection.

Some have a few headache tablets, a number of plasters, an old tube or two of skin ointment whereas others could easily help out the local chemist in times of shortage.

Nelmarie du Toit, assistant director of the Child Accident Prevention Foundation in South Africa, recommends that one should always keep your medicine chest and first aid kit separately. Ideally there should be no medicine in a first aid kit at home.

Things which Du Toit says one should always have in the home medicine chest include over-the-counter painkillers (paracetamol and aspirin), antiseptic lotion, diarrhoea medicine, laxatives, antihistamine tablets, cough mixture and rehydration fluids.

In the first aid kit should be disinfectant, plasters, antiseptic cream, mercurochrome, antihistamine ointment, tweezers, bandages, insect repellant, diarrhoea medicine, laxatives, antihistamine tablets and cotton wool.

Whatever the case, there are certain things one should always keep in mind when storing medicine in the home.

  • All medicines should be kept out of the reach of children – they cannot distinguish between sweets and brightly-coloured antibiotics.
  • Check to see if any of the medicines in the chest have passed their expiry date. Get rid of them either by taking them back to the chemist and asking them to dispose of them, or by flushing them down the toilet. Don’t put them in the garbage can where they can easily be found by children.
  • Most medicine should be stored at room temperature or in the fridge. Put the medicin in the fridge on the highest shelf possible in a childproof container.
  • Don’t let children play with empty medicine containers or bottles.
  • Put medicines in childproof containers, so even if children get into the medicine chest, they still can’t open the medicine bottles.

Other safety measures recommended by Du Toit include never letting children take their own medicine, carefully reading instructions before taking or administering any medicines, never trying to get children to take medicine by telling them they are sweets, and never to administer medicine in the dark, as one bottle could look very much like another.

Actual cases mentioned by Du Toit include a toddler who ate tablets found in a rubbish bin, a child who got liver damage from taking 6 iron tablets and a child whose mother accidentally gave her shampoo instead of cough mixture.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated May 2010)


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