Drugs to keep at home

Alternative names
Home pharmacy; Medications to have at home


For common minor symptoms and illnesses, over-the-counter medicines are available. Always follow the manufacturer’s directions and warnings when using these products. If you have any questions, consult with your doctor before starting a new over-the-counter drug. All medications lose their effectiveness (expire) over time and eventually should be replaced.

Check the expiration date before using any product.

Remember that storing medicines improperly shortens their “shelf life.” Store medicines in a cool, dry area. The heat from kitchens and the moisture from bathrooms decrease the effectiveness of a medication. (See storing medicine.) Store all medications out of reach of children.

Do Not give aspirin to children under 12. Consult your health care provider before giving aspirin, ibuprofen, or similar medicines to children. Pepto-Bismol contains aspirin-like salicylates, so talk with your doctor before using it in children.

Women should consult their doctor before taking over-the-counter medicines while pregnant or breastfeeding.

The following list includes some examples of over-the-counter medicines for common symptoms. This list is not comprehensive, nor does it imply an endorsement of some brands over others. Many of these have less expensive “store brand” equivalents. Always look at the ingredients. There are many “multi-symptom” combination versions - you should select products with the fewest ingredients needed to address your actual symptoms.


Over-the-counter medicines

Aches and pains



  • Aspirin (Bayer, Bufferin, Ecotrin)
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve)
  • Acetaminophen/aspirin/caffeine (Excedrin)

Stuffy nose/ congestion

  • Oral decongestants: pseudoephedrine (Contact Non-Drowsy, Simply Stuffy, Sudafed)
  • Decongestant nasal sprays: oxymetazoline (Afrin, Neo-Synephrine, Sinex) and phenylephrine (Neo-Synephrine, Sinex)
  • NOTE: Decongestant nasal sprays may work more quickly but have arebound effect if you use them more than 3-5 days. They are best forshort-lived colds and not for persistent allergies.

Cough with sputum or phlegm

  • Expectorant: guaifenesin (Robitussin)

Dry cough

  • Menthol throat lozenges: Halls, Robitussin, Vicks
  • Liquid cough suppressant: dextromethorphan (Benylin, Delsym, Robitussin DM, Simply Cough, Vicks 44).

Sore throat

  • Sore throat lozenges: Chloraseptic, Luden’s, Sucrets
  • Anesthetic spray: dyclonine (Cepacol), phenol (Chloraseptic)
  • General pain-killers: acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)


  • Non-sedating antihistamines: loratadine (Alavert, Claritin, Dimetapp ND)
  • Sedating antihistamines: diphenhydramine (Benadryl),chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton), brompheniramine (Dimetapp), orclemastine (Tavist)
  • Preventative nasal spray: Cromolyn sodium (NasalCrom)

Skin rashes and itching

  • Hydrocortisone cream (Cortaid, Cortizone 10), Domeboro
Cuts and scrapes
  • Antibiotic creams: bacitracin, Neosporin, Polysporin
  • Antiseptics: Bactine, Betadine, hydrogen peroxide solution, Lanacane First Aid Spray


  • Anti-diarrheal: loperamide (Imodium), bismuth (Kaopectate, Pepto-Bismol)
  • Rehydration fluids: Enfalyte, Pedialyte



  • Emetrol, Pepto-Bismol
  • Rehydration fluids: Enfalyte, Pedialyte
  • Motion sickness: dimenhydrinate (Dramamine)

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 7, 2012
by Mamikon Bozoyan, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.