The Top 10 Medications to Keep in Your Cabinet

The Top 10 Medications to Keep in Your Cabinet
November 5, 2021

Your community pharmacy is your go-to for all of your medications, but you don’t always need a doctor’s order to get them. In addition to prescriptions, your pharmacy offers over-the-counter medications 一 and you should take advantage.

Over-the-counter medications, also known as OTCs, are drugs that can be purchased without a prescription. They are much more accessible and affordable than prescriptions, and they can give you quick relief from your symptoms.

Whether you need cold medicine or cough drops, your local pharmacy probably has what you need; and if they don’t, they can easily order it and get it to you in no time. So next time you go to pick up a prescription, get a vaccination, or have a test done, don’t forget to sift through the shelves.

You’ll find a number of OTCs that you can choose from, and you’ll feel the benefits firsthand.


Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, for short) are pain relievers and fever reducers. They can treat a number of conditions, from headaches to arthritis to various sprains and strains.

Medicines like ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve), and aspirin (Bayer Aspirin) are all considered NSAIDs. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) isn’t an NSAID, but it has the same use as others in the same category, so it is worth considering, too.

The versatility of NSAIDs makes them a much-needed item in your medicine cabinet.

2. Antihistamines

Antihistamines are a staple for those who suffer from allergies. Whether you experience seasonal or situational allergies, an antihistamine can block histamine responses in your body and alleviate symptoms like nasal congestion, sneezing, and hives.

Popular antihistamines include Benadryl, Allegra, and Claritin.

Many antihistamines, though, can cause drowsiness; so for daytime use, you may want to go with a non-drowsy option.

3. Nasal decongestants

For a stuffy nose, a nasal decongestant can work wonders. Nasal decongestants can come in the form of pills, liquids, or sprays, and quickly unclog sinuses so that you can breathe better.

Common oral decongestants (pills and liquids) include products from Sudafed and Mucinex. Common nasal sprays include Afrin and Flonase. Nasal decongestants can also be paired with antihistamines to fight allergy symptoms.

4. Cold and flu medicine

In the midst of cold and flu season, you may need to rely on medication to get you through.

Cold and flu have many of the same symptoms, although cold symptoms are much more mild and develop over time. Each condition can be treated with individual medications, like NSAIDs, antihistamines, and nasal decongestants. However, there are many options available that combine all of these medications in one solution.

Popular cold and flu brands include Theraflu, Mucinex, and Vicks.  

5. Cough medicine

A cough can be a symptom of a number of conditions (including allergies, cold and flu, or COVID-19); but it is generally treated with cough medicine regardless.

Before you decide on a medicine, you should determine whether you have a dry cough or a wet cough that produces mucus 一 as they are treated differently.

For a dry, hacking cough, try a cough suppressant. Popular brands include Robitussin, Vicks DayQuil and NyQuil, and Delsym. For a wet cough, try an expectorant to loosen mucus. Brands include Mucinex and Robitussin.

6. Antacids

Acid reflux is one of the most common health conditions, affecting over 60 million people.

Because of its prevalence, antacids are good to keep on hand. Antacids help neutralize stomach acid and lessen symptoms of burning, belching, and discomfort. First-line antacids include TUMS and Rolaids.

For persistent acid reflux, medications like Prevacid and Prilosec OTC can be good options.

7. Anti-diarrheal medicine

Another common stomach issue, diarrhea, can be treated with a few different OTC medications. Drugs like Imodium (loperamide) can slow down your digestive tract and allow stool to form more effectively.

Other drugs, like Pepto-Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate), can coat your stomach and kill the bacteria that cause diarrhea. Pepto-Bismol is also an effective treatment for acid reflux, nausea, and vomiting, making it a must-have in your home.

8. Antibiotic ointment

For minor cuts, scrapes, and burns, use an antibiotic ointment to provide pain relief and prevent infection.

The most popular option, Neosporin, is a triple antibiotic ointment that offers 24-hour protection from infection. Some ointments, like Neosporin + Pain Relief, also include ingredients to soothe irritation and reduce pain.

Antibiotic ointments are particularly helpful for families who have young children or are active in sports and recreational activities.

9. Hydrocortisone cream

Another topical treatment, hydrocortisone is used for swelling, irritation, and itching of the skin. These symptoms can be caused by anything from bug bites to poison ivy to psoriasis, but hydrocortisone can treat them all the same.

The most popular brand of hydrocortisone is Cortizone 10. A number of other off-brand options are available at your local pharmacy, though.

10. Sleep aids

1/3 of the population deals with insomnia on a regular basis, and in some cases, short-term sleep aids can be helpful.

Natural sleep aids include supplements like melatonin and valerian. Other options include medications like Benadryl and Aleve PM.

Sleep aids have a number of side effects, and they are not intended for long-term use, so it is important that you talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking them.


Depending on your needs, your shopping list may look different, but these medications can help you start brainstorming.

As with any medication you plan to take, it is important to note the side effects, drug interactions, and short- and long-term effects of your OTCs so that you can make the right choices for yourself and your family.

Luckily, your community pharmacist can be a resource to you in this task. They can talk to you about your options, help you weigh your risks, and ensure that you take your medication safely.

With your pharmacist beside you 一 and the right medications in your hand 一 you can be prepared for anything that comes your way.