What's in their medicine cabinet?

Consumer Reports News: May 28, 2008 10:13 AM

What makes medicine cabinets content so interesting that a rumored 40% of us resort to snooping in them while at parties? This curiosity has been the subject of serious relationship advice (don’t commit until you know), intense dramas (with subsequent overdoses) and a variety of sitcoms.

When Jerry Seinfeld snuck a peek in his date’s medicine cabinet, he discovered fungicide and before letting the romance go any further, he set out to uncover her ailment. In a Southwest Airlines commercial, a woman reaches inside the cabinet only to have all the shelves collapse. Even Oprah acknowledged the temptation when she let viewers on a tour of her Chicago apartment take a look at her guest bathroom’s medicine cabinet.

Like Oprah, more than 6,000 Consumer Reports readers were also willing to share the content of their medicine cabinet and the results were as follows:

  • Advil (or another product containing ibuprofen) - 72.8%
  • Aleve (or another product containing naproxen) - 41.6%
  • Aloe vera - 29.5%
  • Antacid pills or liquids for heartburn - 61.6%
  • Anti-bacterial creams or lotions - 61.3%
  • Anti-diarrhea pills or liquids - 44.1%
  • Antihistamines (Benadryl, Dimetapp, etc.) - 63.7%
  • Aspirin - 69.0%
  • Band aids - 93.2 %
  • Calamine or other anti-itch lotions - 50.7 %
  • Combination cold or flu remedies - 55.5 %
  • Cough syrup (antitussive, to quiet a cough) - 37.2%
  • Cough syrup (expectorant, to loosen phlegm) - 36.7 %
  • Decongestants (sprays, drops, or pills) - 53.6 %
  • Excedrin - 20.7%
  • Heartburn pills such (Pepcid AC, Zantac 75, etc.) - 28.2 %
  • Hydrogen Peroxide - 68.6%
  • Laxative pills or liquids - 21.1 %
  • Lip balm (such as Chapstick) - 75.9%
  • Lotions or creams for dry skin - 84.8%
  • Lozenges for sore throats - 51.9 %
  • Orudis KT (or another product containing ketoprofen) - 0.7%
  • PM medications (Tylenol PM, Vicks NyQuil) - 38.1 %
  • Prilosec OTC for chronic heartburn - 11.0 %
  • Sleep aid pills - 16.7 %
  • Tylenol (or store brand of acetaminophen) - 72.5 %

It doesn’t take professional expertise to deduce that we are a nation of dry-skinned, itchy, congested insomniacs with gastrointestinal problems, aches and painsand frequent colds, cuts and scrapes.

It also makes me wonder how many of us self-treat only to end up with unintended consequences. Over use of over-the-counter pain relievers can result in heartburn or headaches. Some decongestants can keep us up at night and antihistamines can cause dryness of the mouth and throat. So it may be time to snoop in your own medicine cabinet. Throw away those expired drugs and take a second look at what you’re taking. I just did and now my cabinet is almost empty… and ready for my next party.

Orly Avitzur, M.D., medical adviser to Consumers Union

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