Medications and its safety at home.
Most of us need to take medicines ourselves or administer medicine it to our family at some point or the other. Some may need to take medicines for a few months to a few years. There are many potential problems related to medicines being kept at home, this article highlights the simple but effective measures to overcome the potential adverse issues.
IntroductionIt is not uncommon to have two or three family members taking modern medicines on a daily basis for a long time for chronic illness. This is more likely when there are parents and grandparents in the family. In India, there is a rise in the incidence of diabetes, hypertension, and hypercholesterolemia at an early age. So, there would be a few members taking tablets regularly, at homes where space is relatively small and with children around safety becomes an issue with children and adults too. Lets have a close look at this topic.
Similar namesWith many brands, many different types of medications, there are few tablets that sound the same, especially when we order over the phone or ask someone to buy it for us.
- Chlorpropamide (antidiabetic medicine) vs Chlorpromazine(to treat psychosis, nausea, vomiting)
- Quinine (anti-malarial) vs Quinidine (for treating irregular heart rhythms).
- Pyridoxine vs Pyridium
- Prednisone Vs Prednisolone
- Sulfadiazine vs Sulfasalazine
These are pharmacological or true names, there would similar sounding trade or brand names of medicines too.
Most homes have
- Sterile disposable syringes
- Anti-allergic tablets
- Oral rehydration solution powder
- Regular medicines used for Asthma and wheezing
- Antiseptic creams and anti-inflammatory sprays
High risk groupsWe all have unique potential risks based on the age groups with respect to tablets and syrups, as we need to be aware of it and exercise caution.
- Toddlers have a habit of putting everything into their mouths, tablets kept loosely on the tabletops or in small cups can easily be taken and swallowed by toddlers as they are curious and love to explore
- Children sweet tasting syrups and colorful tablets (jelly-like multivitamins) are attractive and some swallow them without the knowledge of adults
- Elderly people have a tendency of being forgetful, being confused mildly and forget what medicines they have taken and what they should take next. Some have difficulty in holding small tablets as they have hand tremors (shaky hands). Their eyesight is also weak to read the fine letters (even young adults sometimes struggle with the minute prints). They are regular magnifying glasses or flexible magnifying sheets the size of a postcard. These would be very helpful for them to use to read the names correctly. When elders travel, we should give them medicines clearly labelled as those of morning, afternoon and night and given to them clearly marked so that they can take them safely
- Adults are often in a hurry and under stress from job pressure, time constraints and other issues. They either forget to take their medicines or leave out one or swallow another tablet mistaking it as their regular tablets. While traveling, some forget to carry their regular tablets, skip them for one or two days and then re-start it once they are back home. The common medicines missed out are thyroid tablets and BP medicines
How to store a medicine properly?Often medicines are kept on tabletops or desk draws that are easily accessible to all and can be swallowed by mistake or can result in accidental over dosage. So for the safety, all medicines should be kept in covered boxes or plastic containers away from the reach of children. In addition, you can have a close look at the following points for taking the correct medicines.
Precautions to be taken while storing medicines at home
- Checking expiry dates : We buy medicines, keep it at home and at times forget to check the expiry dates. After a few months, when we need it we find that it's past the expiry date. When purchasing to stock the medicines, it is better to check before purchasing and before ingesting the tablet or syrup
- Similar appearance : We would have seen people having tablets without wrapper being carried or given in a small cap or paper packet. These are potentially dangerous as some medicines look the same in shape and size. For instance, see a tablet of Crocin or Calpol (for fever) without the cover and compare with a tablet of Cifran (antibiotic), it looks exactly the same. I have seen senior citizens at medical shops asking for 'the red round tablet or the white long tablet for BP or diabetes. This practice is obviously wrong and they have the tablet wrapper or at least the names clearly written down or stored in their mobiles. Now a days, everyone has a smartphone. It would be a simple but effective practice to store an image of the prescription and the actual tablet strip in the mobiles and refer if needed
- High risk medicines : There are few classes of medicines that are potentially dangerous and need to be stored safely so that, they cannot be accidentally swallowed by family members. Some examples are Brlinta, Acitorm, Clopilet (given to make the blood thinner and prevent it from clotting), Labetalol (slowing of heart rate) etc
- Self prescribed combinations : Many cardiac patients and elderly patients are often on Ecosprin or Asprin which protects the heart but thins the blood. Such patients, when they have a headache or bad joint pain, they pop a combiflam (ibuprofen and paracetamol) for pain. Unfortunately, some have gastritis or a stomach ulcer, it is worsened by this self-combination manifesting as stomach pain or bleeding from the stomach ulcer (because of the ecosprin) needing urgent medical consult or hospitalization. Such combinations should be discussed with the regular doctor or family physician who can advise accordingly
- Syrup bottles and measuring cups : Many of the syrup bottles have metal caps that are used by people to pour out a measure and drink the syrup. After a few days, you can notice that the inner thread becomes corroded and the paper disk, deep inside the cap is soggy. I have seen people drink antacid syrups by just pouring an arbitrary measure into a glass or directly into their mouths. It is better to measure the syrup in a marked measuring to have the right amount and wash it with warm water, dry it and store for the next use
- Administration of medicines : Large tablets are often broken for ease of swallow, if they are 'gastro-resistant tablets' (Eg: Asprin gastro-resistant tablet) then the efficacy would be lost as the outer coating keep the active drug safe from the acidic gastric juice before it reaches the intestines. Sometimes tablets are crushed on a piece of newspaper, crushed with the aluminium foil cover intact etc, capsules are taken out of the wrapper and left out in the open before they are swallowed, these are better avoided
- Psychiatric medications and Human behavior : There are families wherein one or more individuals are on long-term treatment for depression, anxiety, sleeplessness and psychiatric illnesses. These tablets are either mood stabilizers, tablets that induce sleep etc. Teenagers and young stressful people at home at tense situations after a fight or serious arguments, in the spur of the moment, swallow a whole lot of these tablets ending up to be admitted and be in the ICU etc. Such medications should be kept under lock and key or with a secure access to prevent such mishaps
Emergency home kitSome families live on the outskirts, far-flung areas or elders parents live alone and have to struggle to get help in case of a minor emergency. Such families can have a basic emergency medical aid kit that is available ready made or they can put together themselves.
The emergency kit has
- Gloves (sterile and unsterile)
- Bandage cloth
- Sterile gauze
- Sterile Pads
- Triangle bandage
- Small adhesive plaster roll
- Safety pins
- Alcohol Swabs
- Antiseptic ointment
SummaryMedications come in various forms (tablets, capsules, syrup, powder) and different shapes, we all would have or would need to use them at home. These medicines that help us can also be harmful to children and other adults. With simple measures and awareness, we can ensure that our families can be safe from adverse effects due to accidental or intentional misuse.