Living Columns & Blogs

Medicine cabinet essentials for winter

Karen Cherinka
Karen Cherinka

We know that winter brings with it an increase in certain illnesses and ailments. Below are a few suggestions for items to have in your medicine cabinet to help manage until the warmer months arrive.

Fighting the common cold

The common cold, caused by a virus, is the most frequent — although generally mild — human disease. While there is no specific treatment for the common cold, we can keep our medicine cabinets stocked with supplies to help manage the symptoms. High dose zinc, the active ingredient in Zicam, has been proven to reduce the severity and duration of the common cold if taken at the onset of symptoms. Saline or salt water nasal spray moisturizes dry sinus cavities, loosens nasal congestion and removes debris from the nose.

Oral decongestants may also provide some relief of a stuffy or runny nose. While using a humidifier, drinking plenty of fluids and taking honey can help manage a cough, having a cough suppressant on hand can be helpful to control this symptom. The expectorant, guaifenesin, or brand name Mucinex, can be taken to thin secretions. Acetaminophen, generic for Tylenol, is a must-have to reduce fever or body aches and pains that can come with a cold or flu. On that note, it is also important to have a thermometer to monitor body temperature. For a sore throat, stock up on throat lozenges, preferably with an anesthetic property, to soothe the pain. Don’t forget about salt water gargles.

Dry winter skin

The cold days of winter can create dry, irritated, itchy skin, sometimes referred to as winter itch or winter eczema. A thick moisturizer or petroleum jelly applied immediately after bathing can help ward this off. Hydrocortisone cream is also good to have available for itchy, dry, scaly patches that don’t respond to moisturizing cream. Lip moisturizer is also very useful during this time of the year.

Get your vitamins

As the availability and variety of fresh fruits and vegetables is more limited in the winter, there may be concern about not getting the daily recommended value of vitamins and minerals from diet alone. A multi-vitamin, containing vitamins A, C and E can be added to your daily regimen, as these antioxidants improve the function of the immune system.

With the shorter days of winter comes less sun exposure. Vitamin D is produced in the body in response to the absorption of UVB rays from the sun. If you are not spending enough time outdoors during the winter months, talk to your primary care provider about a dose recommendation based on your vitamin D level. Vitamin D deficiency can manifest itself as fatigue, poor bone health and a low mood.

Aches, pains, falls and sprains

After shoveling heavy, wet snow, joints and muscles may be sore. A local analgesic, such as Icy Hot cream or patches, can be used to relieve the soreness. A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, such as ibuprofen, generic Advil or Motrin, taken with food, will also be effective in taking away the pain.

Slips and falls are all too common on ice-covered surfaces. This can result in cuts or abrasions. Keep a bottle of saline on hand for cleansing wounds, triple-antibiotic ointment to prevent infection and bandages to keep wounds covered. Check with your provider on the date of your last tetanus shot; it is current if you had it in the past 10 years.

For minor sprains or strains, keep an elastic bandage to provide compression, and reduce swelling at the place of injury. Epsom salts provide a soothing soak for muscle aches and pains.

As always, the focus is on prevention to reduce the risk of these common conditions. Remember good handwashing is the first line of defense in avoiding the common cold. Maintain a healthy diet and exercise program, and keep safe by clearing and salting your walkways. If you have chronic health conditions, or are taking medication, check with your provider before using any over-the-counter medication.

Karen Cherinka is a Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner with Mount Nittany Physician Group Family Medicine at its Mount Nittany Health — Penns Valley location.