Medicine Cabinet Essentials – What You Need

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Men’s Health

We’ve gone from not even knowing what a pulse oximeter or a UV-light sanitizer is to obsessively Googling the best prices for them. What other products and meds do you need (or, uh, not need) in your 2021 medicine cabinet and home health tool kit? Take this quiz and see if your knowledge—or what you’re using—needs an update.


1. Uh-oh. The thermometer says you’re in fever turf. Better reach for:

  1. Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  2. Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
  3. Nothing. The fever needs to run its course.
    1. Answer: 1

      A FEVER’S JOB is to make your body inhospitable to the germs invading it, but you don’t need to let a temperature run rampant. Studies have shown that using the a fever reducer that’s in your medicine cabinet won’t delay recovery but can reduce misery. Acetaminophen edges out ibuprofen, says Crystal Zhou, Pharm.D., an assistant clinical professor of pharmacy at the University of California San Francisco, who says it’s safer to take. If your fever tops 103°F, call a doc.


      2. You need your annoying cough to stop. Like, now. Get:

      1. A cough suppressant
      2. An expectorant
      3. Antibiotics
        1. Answer: 2

          “AN EXPECTORANT loosens up the phlegm so it’s easier to cough up,” says Zhou. Give a medicine cabinet spot to products with guaifenesin, such as Mucinex SE. Suppressants (dextromethorphan) just remove the itch that makes you want to cough. Together, these ingredients work against each other, says Zhou. So you’ll want to skip the combo products (ones with both a suppressant and an expectorant). And don’t be tempted by antibiotics: They don’t kill viruses, which cause colds and COVID-19.


          3. Which is better for a runny nose?

          1. Nose drops
          2. Decongestants you take by mouth
            1. Answer: 1 or 2

              ORAL DECONGESTANTS effectively constrict the blood vessels in your nose, relieving the runniness and also stuffiness. Nose drops (aka “nasal sprays”) do that, too, but can cause rebound congestion if you use them for more than three days in a row, sometimes making your nose feel stuffier than before, explains Ada Stewart, M.D., president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. The spray/stuffiness/spray routine can become a vicious cycle that’s hard to break. Nose drops made of just saline, such as Ocean, won’t do that—but they don’t work for everyone.


              4. You did legs for the first time in months. Ouch. An ibuprofen might (choose all that apply):

              1. Let you walk comfortably
              2. Reduce your gains
              3. Take down your risk of injury
                1. Answer: 1 and 2

                  “IF YOU’RE SORE after one workout and take an Advil, it’s fine and can potentially help your muscles be less sore,” says Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., at CUNY Lehman College. But hitting repeat on anti-inflammatory pills (also naproxen or aspirin) too often can stop you from reaping strength gains. The acute inflammatory response that happens after training signals your body to repair and strengthen the muscle. Chronically using these meds blunts that.


                  5. The absolute best, microbiologist-approved way to clean your hands is with:

                  1. Soap
                  2. Hand sanitizer
                  3. Both
                    1. Answer: 3

                      IF YOU WASH your hands for 20 seconds with regular soap, that’s all you need. Thing is, nobody really does that. Not even now. “Most people only wash their hands for about 11 seconds,” says Charles Gerba, Ph.D., a professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona. “That’s why it’s better to wash your hands, then follow it up with some hand sanitizer that’s at least 70 percent alcohol just to be safe.” Products with less alcohol may not kill all the germs.


                      6. The best way to keep the germs on your doorknobs from infecting you is with:

                      1. A home UV sanitizing wand
                      2. Any basic cleaning product
                      3. An antibacterial or disinfecting cleaning product
                        1. Answer: 3

                          WHILE UV LIGHT works well for hospital disinfection, home UV wands aren’t as effective nor are they typically regulated, says Gerba. And regular spray cleaner “doesn’t do anything to viruses or bacteria,” he adds. Products with the words antibacterial or disinfecting will actually kill them. But for these products to really work, you have to leave them on the surface for about ten minutes, which you, as a busy person, do not really have time for. You can use antibacterial wipes and let the residue dry on its own.


                          7. If your wearable shows a heart rate that’s higher than usual in the morning, it might mean (choose all that apply):

                          1. You’re having a heart attack
                          2. You’re about to get sick
                          3. You should kick your workout back today
                            1. Answer: 2 or 3

                              THE STRESS OF a hard workout or fighting off illness may cause your heart rate to go up. “And fevers may increase heart rate up to 20 beats per minute for every degree of temperature above normal,” says Ilan Kedan, M.D., of the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai. A heart attack wouldn’t be likely to show up on a heart-rate monitor. If you suspect you’re having one, you need to be diagnosed by a doctor, not a smartwatch.


                              8. Your blood pressure is all over the place because you checked it (choose all that apply):

                              1. After working out
                              2. After drinking coffee
                              3. With your arm on a low surface
                              4. While scrolling Twitter
                                1. Answer: 1, 2, 3, or 4

                                  “A LOT OF FACTORS can contribute to blood pressure going up and down, and doing just one thing ‘wrong’ can affect readings,” says Naomi Fisher, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. To avoid the mistakes above and get a better read, wait 30 minutes after a workout or coffee; sit still with your arm at heart height (and back supported, feet flat on the floor); and take a break from stressful scrolling.


                                  9. You should be monitoring your Blood-oxygen saturation on a pulse oximeter:

                                  1. Daily
                                  2. If you are having COVID-19 symptoms
                                  3. Never
                                    1. Answer: 3

                                      WHEN NEWS CAME out that some people with COVID-19 had low oxygen-saturation levels even if they didn’t have a hard time breathing, there was a run on pulse oximeters. But oxygen sats aren’t magic numbers—some people with low levels are pretty healthy, while others need to be hospitalized. And sometimes a dip is due to how you’re wearing the device. So no need for one of these in your medicine cabinet. A better way to know if you need a hospital: Go if you’re having trouble breathing, says Paul Pottinger, M.D., of the University of Washington School of Medicine.


                                      10. After exposure to someone with COVID-19, gargling with hydrogen peroxide or putting hand sanitizer under your nose can help you avoid getting sick. True or false?

                                      1. True
                                      2. False
                                        1. Answer: 2

                                          “YOU HAVE TO be preventive with COVID-19, rather than reactive,” says Iahn Gonsenhauser, M.D., of the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “A 1 percent hydrogen peroxide gargle can help reduce viral burden in the mouth, making dental work safer for dentists, but it won’t help you after you’ve been exposed.” And applying hand sanitizer under your nose may just put more germs on your face.

                                          This story originally appeared in the January/February 20201 issue of Men’s Health.

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