Health & Wellness

What's hiding in your medicine cabinet?

Has it been a while since you sifted through your medicine cabinet? It’s hard keep track of what you need to toss or save. Keeping those unused and expired medications won’t land you in the hospital, but their effectiveness over times fades and may put the people in your home at risk of accidental misuse and ingestion.

NBC News medical contributor Dr. Natalie Azar highlighted the steps to makeover your medicine cabinet.

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Ask a Doctor: What should everyone have in their medicine cabinets?

Play Video - 1:18

Ask a Doctor: What should everyone have in their medicine cabinets?

Play Video - 1:18

Step 1: Check the dates.

It’s time to take an inventory of medications. Look through everything you have stocked-piled including vitamins, ointments and supplements. Set aside any item that is expired and check its color, odor and consistency.

For prescriptions, follow the one year cut off rule. Remember that the expiration date really refers to a product that was unopened and never used. The clock starts ticking on its shelf life once it’s opened. Many medications lose their potency after the expiration date and some may even be toxic. The antibiotic tetracycline, once expired, can cause serious effects resulting in damage to the kidneys.

RELATED: What you need to know about medicine and food interactions

Step 2: Test medical devices.

With expired and opened items set aside for disposal, the next step is to review your medical devices and supplies. If your thermometer is still in good working order, keep it. Other medical devices, like blood pressure or glucose monitors are often upgraded so stop by the pharmacy and see what’s new and best for your health.

Step 3: Safely toss your medications and products.

Flushing unused medicines down the toilet can be dangerous. To avoid the risk taking a trip to the pharmacy is the safest way to discard expired medication. Be sure to also read the prescription drug label because there may be specific instruction.

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Medicines and prescriptions you should have (and when to throw them out)

Play Video - 3:35

Medicines and prescriptions you should have (and when to throw them out)

Play Video - 3:35

There are certain collectors that are registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). These sites may include retail, hospital or clinic pharmacies, and law enforcement locations. Also, take advantage of your local community’s medicine take-back programs. If none of these are an option, throw the drugs in the household trash following these steps:

  • Remove from original container and mix with undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds, dirt or kitty litter.
  • Place the mixture in a sealable bag, empty can or other container to prevent the drug from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.
  • Protect your identity by making sure to scratch out all identifying information on the prescription label to make it unreadable.

RELATED: A child or teen poisoned by medicine almost every minute, according to report

Step 4: Replenish your stock.

There are some essentials that should be found in every home medicine cabinet. When illness or a mishap strikes, you want these products to be available immediately. Cover your bases:

  • NSAIDs/acetaminophen for fevers, aches and pains
  • Thermometer
  • Anti-nausea/upset stomach product
  • Bandages
  • Allergy medication

RELATED: Best home cures for your aches and pains

Step 5: Think about storage and relocating.

Forget what you think you know, stashing your medications in a bathroom cabinet, may not be the ideal storage place. The temperature and humidity are constantly changing in the bathroom and those steamy showers can expedite the expiry of medication. To prevent their loss of potency, it’s best to keep them in a dry, cool place.

Your deodorant, toothpaste and skin cream are okay to keep in the bathroom because they’re not going to last long. Consider relocating your medicine cabinet to a kitchen cabinet (away from the stove), a drawer in your dresser or a bedroom closet away from kids.

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