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It’s easy to take the power of medicine for granted. We all grew up with the idea that you can just pop a pill and get rid of your cold and flu symptoms, but just a little over a century ago this was completely unheard of. Back then, people had to live with their symptoms and could only hope they would get better. If you ever find yourself in a long-term disaster without OTC (over-the-counter) medications, you’ll quickly find out how rough it was for them.
The list below is not a comprehensive list of all the medical supplies you should stockpile. Rather, it’s a list of the most popular OTC medications that you can take orally (or in some cases, topically). If you’re looking for a complete list of medical supplies, check out this list.
The medications listed below should take care of all the most common ailments such as allergies, arthritis, congestion, constipation, cough, cramps, diarrhea, dizziness, fever, headache, heartburn, nausea, sore throat, runny nose, vomiting, and more. I listed them alphabetically by the most popular names (usually a brand name), but I also included the generic names in parentheses along with links to them on amazon.com since the generic versions are much cheaper and usually just as effective (most of them are made by Kirkland Signature, which I have found to be reliably good).
Before you say, “I hardly ever get sick, I’ll be fine,” keep in mind that during a major disaster you’ll be undergoing a lot of stress which will quickly weaken your immune system. If you get sick and are feeling miserable, you won’t be nearly as helpful to those who depend on you. Also, since many other people will be stressed out and possibly sick, you could use some of your medicine for bartering.
But don’t just run to the store and start filling your cart with drugs. Stop and think about what you use most and least often. For example, I have a lot of antacids because I tend to get heartburn, but I only have a little bit of Dramamine because I rarely ever get nauseous, even when I’m sick. Once you figure out which items you use most frequently, add them to your EDC kit, your bug out bag, and your regular first aid supplies.
It should also be noted that some of these items are slightly redundant. For example, Excedrin is just equal parts acetaminophen and aspirin, so you’ll have to decide whether to buy Excedrin or just make your own. As another example, there are many different things listed for digestive discomfort. That’s because some things work for some people, and some don’t. Everybody is different. Figure out which products work best for you and your family, and stock up on those.
Also, don’t forget to note the expiration dates of your medications. Although they’ll last a while beyond the expiration dates, they will lose their potency over time, so you should keep track of what’s new and what’s old. Now on to the list (organized by the type of ailment they treat).
1. Allegra (Fexofenadine) – This relieves all the classic allergy symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes and throat, and so forth.
2. Benadryl (Diphenhydramine) – This antihistamine is sort of a wonder drug. It treats all sorts of things including coughing, itching, rashes, runny nose, sneezing, and other allergy symptoms. It’s also great for helping people fall asleep.
3. Claritin (Loratadine) – This also treats allergy and cold symptoms like coughing and sneezing, but it doesn’t make you drowsy. Many people find it to be more effective than Benadryl. Again, it’s a matter of personal preference. Figure out which of the two you like better, or go ahead and store both.
4. Zyrtec (Cetirzine) – My wife swears by this stuff. Some people love Allegra and Claritin, but those never worked for her and she had given up on stopping allergy symtpoms (which get really bad for a few months every year) until she tried Cetirzine. Everybody’s different.
Cold and Flu
5. Dayquil (Acetaminophen, Dextromethorphan, Phenylephrine) – My favorite thing for cold symptoms such as congestion, cough, headache, and sore throat. However, it won’t stop a runny nose. For that you’ll need an antihistamine such as Benadryl.
6. Mucinex DM (Dextromethorphan, Guaifenesin) – This is great for the kind of colds that cause lots of coughing and chest congestion. Drink plenty of water with it.
7. Nyquil (Acetaminophen, Doxylamine, Dextromethorphan) – This does a good job relieving cold and flu symptoms. However, many people complain about having a “Nyquil hangover” the next day. It’s not as bad as an alcohol hangover, but you’ll feel very tired.
8. Robitussin (Guaifenesin) – This is just like Mucinex DM minus the Dextromethorphan (cough suppressant). If your only problem is chest mucus, this is what you want to take.
9. Sudafed PE (Phenylephrine) – This is just like Dayquil minus the Dextromethorphan, which is a cough suppressant. If all you have is sinus pressure and pain, then this is what you need.
10. Alka-Seltzer (Citric Acid, Sodium Bicarbonate) – This is a combination citric acid, sodium bicarbonate, and a little bit of aspirin. It’s great for indigestion, stomach aches, and even head or body aches, especially after eating or drinking too much.
11. Dulcolax (Bisacodyl) – These cause bad stomach pain and a very unpleasant bowel movement, but that’s the whole idea. If you’re constipated, these will get you going again. Just make sure you stay close to the bathroom after you take it.
12. Imodium (Loperamide) – Disasters can be stressful, and if you’re also eating food you don’t normally eat, you might become constipated (see Dulcolax above). Or you could end up with the opposite problem: diarrhea. For that you need Imodium. It’s important to take care of this quickly because you don’t want to get dehydrated.
13. Milk of Magnesia (Magnesium Hydroxide) – This is both an antacid and a laxative. It reduces stomach acid, but it also draws water into the intestines, helping relief constipation.
14. Nexium or Prilosec (Esomeprazole) – Once or twice a year, if I start getting frequent heartburn again, I’ll take this for a couple weeks and it fixes me up. However, you don’t want to take it longer than two weeks or too many times per year as long term use is bad for the kidneys.
15. Pepcid AC (Famotidine) – If heartburn isn’t a regular problem for you but only happens after eating certain foods, this is probably the fastest way to get relief.
16. Pepto-Bismol (Bismuth Subsalicylate) – This stuff is amazing. It can soothe almost any kind of stomach discomfort (diarrhea, heartburn, indigestion, nausea) by limiting digestive secretions and reducing inflammation.
17. Tagamet (Cimetidine) – Another fast-acting acid reducer. I recommend taking this ahead of time if you know you’re going to eat something like pizza or fried food.
18. Tums (Calcium Carbonate) – If you’ve stocked up on lots of canned food, spaghetti sauce, crackers, and other acidic, high-sodium foods, then you have a recipe for frequent heartburn. Antacids can make a huge difference. They also treat calcium deficiencies.
20. Advil or Motrin (Ibuprofen) – An anti-inflammatory that is good for arthritis, back pain, headaches, menstrual cramps, sore muscles, stomach aches, toothaches, and small injuries.
21. Aleve (Naproxen) – Another anti-inflammatory drug. It works the same way as Advil (reducing hormones that cause inflammation) and treats the same symptoms. Some people think it’s more effective than Advil. Whichever one you choose to store is a matter of personal preference.
22. Aspirin (Aspirin) – Although it’s not quite as effective as the last two painkillers, one huge plus is its ability to help someone recover from a heart attack. It can also help prevent future heart attacks by thinning the blood. For that, you need baby aspirin, but talk to your doctor first as it can have negative side effects in some people.
23. Excedrin (Acetaminophen and Aspirin) – I used to have a friend who got migraines on a regular basis and she swore by this. It’s equal parts aspirin and acetaminophen (250 mg each) and a little bit of caffeine.
24. Orajel (Benzocaine) – The most common usage for this to relieve toothaches. If dentists are hard to come by after a major disaster, it could become very valuable. It can also be used to treat sore throats, hemorrhoids, sunburns, and other skin irritations.
25. Tylenol (Acetaminophen) – One of the most popular drugs of all time. It can effectively relieve pain and reduce fevers. You’ll definitely want to have plenty of this on hand.
Skin Itching / Wounds
26. Aspercreme (Lidocaine) – This will treat itching, sunburns, and other minor burns. Some people say it even helps with hemorrhoids and sore muscles. It works is by targeting pain receptors and numbing the skin and tissue.
27. Cortizone 10 (Hydrocortisone) – Sometimes, my son gets rashes when playing in the yard, and if it weren’t for this stuff, he would probably scratch until he bled. Hydrocortisone cream works wonders for itching, and it’s good for eczema and psoriasis.
28. Lotrimin (Clotrimazole) – This cream treats itching associated with bacteria such as jock itch, athelete’s foot, and yeast infections.
29. Neosporin (Bacitracin, Neomycin, and Polymyxin B) – After a disaster, one where you end up clearing debris and making repairs, you’re bound to get some cuts and scrapes. This will help them heal faster and prevent infection.
30. QuikClot Sponge (Zeolite) – This is a sterile mesh bag filled with zeolite beads which help speed up your blood’s coagulation, causing serious wounds to stop bleeding much, much faster. This is a very important one to have on hand.
31. Activated Charcoal (Charcoal) – This is worth stockpiling because of its ability to absorb poisons and remove them from the body. It can also treat gas, diarrhea, indigestion, and can even whiten your teeth.
33. Epsom Salt (Magnesium Sulfate) – This is usually used in baths. So why is it on this list? Because Epsom salt can treat sore muscles, soothe headaches, heal sprains and bruises, alleviate tension, and reduce inflammation. It can also be used as a laxative.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, the information here is not meant to be medical advice, and many of the statements above have not been approved by the FDA. I’m just sharing my opinion. I encourage you to do your own research and talk to your doctor to make sure you’re not allergic to any of these medications and to make sure they won’t interfere with any other medications you’re taking.