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Rule No. 1: Be prepared

You wake up in the middle of the night with a terrible stomachache and diarrhea.

Now is when a well-stocked medicine cabinet can be your best friend. Simply reach for an antidiarrheal such as Imodium A-D or Kaopectate.

"The idea is to be prepared for everyday accidents and illnesses," said Jerry Meloche, a pharmacist in Naples. "Typically, you want to treat something right away. When you aren't feeling well or when you're injured, it's not the best time to have to run out to the pharmacy and hunt through the plethora of products on the shelves."

What is in a well-stocked medicine chest?

For starters, you want the basic supplies to treat wounds. That includes one box of self-adhesive bandages in assorted sizes, a box of larger self-adhesive bandages, sterile gauze pads in assorted sizes, a tube of triple antibiotic cream such as Neosporin, a gauze roll, one roll of adhesive tape, a small pair of scissors and packages of alcohol or Betadine wipes.

A bottle of sterile saline can come in handy for washing out wounds. A bottle of hydrogen peroxide can help prevent infections in wounds. A spray-pump bottle of Bactine is great for scrapes and sunburn.

Not only should these items be in your home medicine cabinet, they should also be in a self-contained portable kit.

Home and portable medicine kits should be checked several times a year to make sure that things haven't expired. And don't forget to restock when you use something.

For pain relief and low-grade fever, extra-strength Tylenol is a good all-around medication to keep on hand, said family practitioner Dr. Arnold Ramirez, an assistant professor at the University of South Florida College of Medicine.

Alternatives such as Advil, Aleve or aspirin are not recommended for people on blood-thinning medications, Ramirez said.

Benadryl, an antihistamine, is another staple, he said. Benadryl relieves itching, bee stings and other allergic reactions, and it is safe for children as well as adults.

A tube of hydrocortisone ointment can be used topically to treat rashes due to allergies, such as contact with poison ivy or poison oak, or fire ant stings.

To treat coughs that come along with a cold or flu, cough syrup is always a good thing to have. But the various mixes and matches on store shelves can be dizzying.

Robitussin-DM is a good choice, as is Vicks 44, Meloche said. Robitussin has a cough suppressant and a decongestant to loosen up chest congestion. Vicks 44 is only a cough suppressant. Both are good for the general population. The tricky thing is that some cough syrups contain a decongestant, such as Sudafed. Some people, including those with high blood pressure, glaucoma or sleeping problems, are advised not to take Sudafed.

For nighttime cough relief, Nyquil can be effective, but again, not all people can take it. It contains a decongestant, and people with drinking problems should avoid it because it contains alcohol.

Ramirez also says that cough syrups can contain too much glucose for diabetics. They should check with their physician before taking these over-the-counter medicines.

Now that one has gone to all the effort of assembling a first-aid station for the home, Ramirez has one more caveat: Do not keep the medicine in the medicine cabinet. A bathroom's humidity deteriorates the products. In another room, find a dark cupboard that is inaccessible to children, he says.

Ready for almost anything

1. Nyquil,

2. Vicks 44,

3. Robitussin _ DM,

4. Sudafed,

5. Aspirin,

6. Advil,

7. Aleve,

8. Extra-strength Tylenol,

9. Thermometer,

10. Ace bandage (for possible sprain or broken bone),

11. A cold pack (for sprains or swelling),

12. Bactine,

13. Hot pack (for muscle aches)

14. Sun block or sunscreen,

15. Hydrocortisone ointment (any brand)

16. Tweezers and a magnifying glass (for splinters)

17. Benadryl,

18. Milk of magnesia or Phazyme,

19. Maalox or Mylanta,

20. Metamucil or Citrucel (for diarrhea or constipation),

21. Colace Gas-X,

22. Hydrogen peroxide,

23. Band Aids,

24. Bottle of aloe vera gel

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