10 Essential OTC Medications for Your Emergency Kit

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First aid kits can be small enough to fit into your purse, or large enough to fill a big toolbox. When deciding what you should have in your first aid kit, you should include over the counter (OTC) medicines that will cover most ailments. These medicines will also be the first to disappear from the store shelves. Here are 10 OTC medicines that everyone should have in their emergency supplies, everyday carry, and bug out bags.

1.    Aspirin/Acetaminophen

First and foremost, there should be both adult and children’s (think chewable!) aspirin in your bag. The pain relief aside, this is excellent for fever reduction, muscle aches, toothaches, common cold, headaches, and thinning the blood. Aspirin (NOT acetaminophen) helping someone recover from a heart attack or prevent future ones! Acetaminophen is inexpensive and is considered the most successful non-prescription medication in history.

2.    Ibuprofen

Also good for pain relief and reducing inflammation and swelling due to menstrual cycles, arthritis or other pain caused by inflammation.  It is a fever reducer much like acetaminophen but some can tolerate ibuprofen better. Ibuprofen also helps headaches and pain due to the flu and cold. Since aspirin is not recommended for children under 12 (unless instructed by a doctor), acetaminophen should be included with pain relievers. Dosage is based on the child’s weight.  This article provides in-depth information about the types of painkillers to include in your emergency kits and prepping supplies.

3.    Antacids

In a SHTF situation, people will still get gassy tummies or a lot of acid build-up due to stress and lack of food. Antacids will help with the discomfort and slow damage done to the stomach and the esophagus.  Ulcers are sure to form and for those who already have them, they will quickly run out of their prescriptions. Examples for stocking up are Tums, Alka-Seltzer, and Rolaids.

4.    Antihistamines and Anti-allergens

Allergies will be even worse after SHTF. People will have to be outside more, if for no other reason than to gather, hunt, and grow food. Without electricity, staying inside may become unbearable in hot weather. For those in rural areas, once the prescriptions run out, all that will be left are things like Benadryl, Claritin, and Zyrtec. Antihistamines help with the reduction of swelling in the sinuses and assist with overall allergens by blocking the histamines that cause the symptoms. If someone has a severe allergy, remember to include an epi-pen.

5.    Bismuth Subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol)

Also known as pink bismuth, this time-tested medicine covers many digestive system issues. Indigestion, nausea, heartburn, gas symptoms and diarrhea are just some of the symptoms this medicine helps relieve. Diarrhea can kill if not taken care of, and one of the most important reasons for having something on hand is to keep yourself hydrated to make up for what you lose. Thankfully, this now comes in a convenient chewable pill form and is easy to carry with you.

6.    Cough/Mucus Control

Sinus infections, influenza, allergies, damp conditions, and exposure can lead to being stuffed up, unable to breathe or get the gunk out. Coming in both pill and liquid forms, this medicine has saved many people from a doctor visit (and bill). Other than providing relief for the ones who are ill, it can also help protect those who are not. If those who are sick are coughing a lot, the sickness has a better chance to spread. There are 2 different OTC cough medicines- antitussives and expectorants. Antitussives are a cough suppressant. They block the cough reflex. Some of these are – Triaminic Cold and Cough, Vicks 44 Cold and Cough and Robitussin Cough. The expectorant thins the mucus and helps makes it easier to clear when you cough. Some of these are – Mucinex and Robitussin Chest Congestion.

 7.    Laxatives

No one wants to think about this, but you will be eternally grateful for the little pill or chew that will relieve discomfort. When in an emergency situation occurs, what kinds of foods and how much or how often can result in constipation. If left untreated, constipation can kill. There are 2 types of laxatives- one draws liquid into the colon and makes it easier to pass waste. These would be Milk of Magnesia, Miralax, Metamucil, Benefiber, and any stool softener. The other type of laxative causes intestinal muscles to contract and help with elimination. These medicines are sold as Dulcolax and Senokot. They can also be taken as a suppository.

8.    Sleep Aides

In any major upset in your life, sleepless nights are often a side effect of the stress. Many people have trouble with, “turning their brain off,” so they can sleep. I would imagine that cases of insomnia will rise exponentially and in a post-disaster scenario, sleep will be more important than ever before. Your ability to make decisions and good judgments will be hindered by a prolonged lack of sleep. A sedating antihistamine is what you see in most OTC medicine. The name brand of these is Benadryl, Aleve PM and Unisom Sleep Tabs. Also consider natural remedies, such as Melatonin, Valerian or lavender essential oil lavender.

9.    Saline Spray/Solution

Saline solution is another wonderful thing to have with you. Even a small bottle could save someone from infections or aid in another way. They are sold as a decongestant, saltwater solution or steroid.  I am all for having versatile resources that have more than one use. Saline solution can help with wound irrigation, eye and sinus flushing, and of course cleaning your contact lenses. Some studies show that saline restores moisture to dry nasal passages and sinuses, and curbs inflammation of mucous membranes.

10. Vitamins

SO MANY people overlook simple vitamins when talking about medicinal items to store and carry for emergencies. In my opinion, vitamins are more important than any of the other things listed here. In a post-disaster scenario, everyone who did not prepare will be suffering from a ‘lack.’ A lack of food, perhaps clean water, sanitation, and assuredly a vitamin deficiency will be all too common.

Your body needs vitamins and minerals to function normally. Your immune system will be fighting off bacteria and viruses at a higher rate, particularly in urban settings, and will need extra nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to help with the process. When it finds none, it will attack the muscles or other organs to get what it needs.

Have you ever wondered what a natural first aid kit looks like? Learn more here!

All of the above are easily bought over the counter without a prescription. Before you go out on a buying spree, though, take a look at your medicine cabinet and pull out all of the stuff stashed in there. Check expiration dates and keep them rotated. Here are a few more handy OTC meds/remedies to have on hand.

  1. Mineral Oil
  2. Epsom’s Salts
  3. Bacitracin
  4. Neosporin
  5. Alcohol
  6. Hydrogen Peroxide
  7. Witch Hazel
  8. Contact Lens Solution
  9. Nasal Spray, Afrin,
  10. Primatene Mist
  11. Robitussin
  12. Zantac/Ranitidine
  13. Fiber like Metamucil & Benefiber
  14. A hoard of organic-natural (i.e. never “Centrum”!) multi/B-vitamins
  15. Vitamin C
  16. Pedialyte
  17. Mag Citrate

Also, consider those who may be coming to you for help and if you are able to, buy a little extra for trade or barter. A bottle of 500 ibuprofen pills is small and easy to pack, not to mention worth a small fortune in a post-disaster situation. NOW is the time to get this checked off your preparedness list when you can consider things in a calm and logical manner.

36 thoughts on “10 Essential OTC Medications for Your Emergency Kit”

  1. Keeping in mind certain things… *good* vitamins can be a boost but are not an exact replacement for finding long term food variety… some of the meds listed above do more damage on an empty stomach. People having inflammation with their stomach/intestines generally will need to stay away from ibuprofen, and diarrhea caused by parasites is best NOT treated with a diarrhea med, etc. While it’s good for everyone to own the basics, they should also educate themselves fully about meds, common health conditions, supplements (how they work, how well they work, etc) and nutrition (especially in terms of changing diet to wild foods if it turns out it isn’t safe to stay someplace and you have to bug out).

  2. Diphenhydramine is often the most common ingredient in sleep aides, so if you buy that for allergies, you have it for sleep/sedation as well. You can use it to help someone sick or injured to rest and heal, but don’t use it on someone with a head injury.

    Also, it is a twin brother to the most common OTC medication for nausea, so it has a triple use.

    Pink bismuth is certainly useful for upset stomach and diarrhea, but Loperimide is generally more effective and faster acting. However, you only want to give something for diarrhea as a last resort. Often your body can flush pathogens and toxins from your GI tract naturally, and it is the protracted diarrhea that is obviously your enemy.

    Multi-vitamins are indeed important to have, but if you are on the move, electrolyte replacement is important. Potassium and magnesium are two important minerals.

    There’s much else to say, but if you have acid reflux and no antacids or PPI’s on hand, clean water is your best medicine as it will dilute the acid in your GI tract. See if sleeping head elevated and/or on your side helps.

  3. I’m new to all this stuff. My biggest problem is that all you veteran preppers abbreviate everything. So now, what is OTC?

  4. Keep in mind that expiration dates are not set in stone. Google “harvard medical school drug expiration” for more information. It is safe to take the meds for years afterward.

  5. Great list, except I feel that aspirin and acetaminophen shouldn’t be grouped together if you have children. Children should never be given Aspirin. It can cause Reye’s syndrome. Children should stick to acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Aspirin is great for adults, though.

  6. I’m a newbie too and have been enjoying your blog. My husband is a paramedic and we have a lot of basic supplies on hand already. I’m just wondering how you store these items for longevity. In sealed original containers in a sealed 5 gallon bucket? Just on shelves?

    1. In original packaging for sterile items. Others I would put in mylar bags and seal with an oxygen absorber(s). Then put those items in buckets with lids. I did this with clean cat litter buckets and food buckets (I got for free from our local bakery that held frosting). These are square (vs circular) so they pack/stack/store easier. Hope that helps. 🙂

  7. I would think having some pretty heavy duty pain killers on hand would be a good idea in case of a severe injury without medical facilities available. I don’t even take any pain killers as a rule, but if I had an injury like a broken leg, or had to have a home surgery (I hope never) I would hope to have some T3’s at least.

    1. The Survival Mom

      I agree, Amy. My mom always taught me to never turn down a prescription for pain killers — go figure! LOL

  8. Good list! I travel frequently to Africa, and a lot of these are things we always take. I’d suggest liqui-gels for ibuprofen since they’re well tolerated on an empty stomach. Loratadin is best for the runs, and you should try to have a “travelers diarrhea” Rx of antibiotic (it’s usually 3 doses of a z-pack, or, for kids, a one dose powder you mix in water or other fluid). You can buy single electrolyte packets, and also some melt-on-your-tongue ones (taste bad but work!). I get migraines, so having something like Bayer Migraine on hand is key!

  9. Nice list. My medicine bag also contains most of these things. But the one thing I always travel with is diarrhea medication. Mostly since you don’t know where you end up eating. It’s saved me at least a couple of times over the past many years.

  10. Neosporin and/or zinc oxide. We have someone with a compromised immune system who doesn’t heal as easily as the average person, so these are a high priority for us.

  11. REPLY not working: to David:
    I have the same problem every now and then.
    OTC means Over The Counter. Drugs that can be purchased without a prescription.

  12. I have plenty of essential oils, raw apple cider vinegar,and Manuka honey on hand. I never resort to any of the things on the list but instead use natural remedies if at all possible. The other day, a wasp stung me and I came in the house and made a paste of baking soda and a little bit of water….the pain went away immediately. I then put a little lavender essential oil on it. There is lots of info online about natural alternatives. I love my essential oils tho and have been using them for 20 years. I am sure the list you have provided is excellent tho and very important for us to have too! Thanks!

  13. @ Jennings: Loratidine is an antihistamine and not taken for “the runs”. You may be thinking of Loperamide, which is the same as Imodium, and also OTC.

  14. How long do essential oils last once they are opened? Where is the best place to store these? Is there a better place to purchase these than another?

    1. The Survival Mom

      The oils are bottled in dark glass containers, which helps protect them from the light. Store them in a cool location and they should last at least 5 years. I personally use mostly Young Living oils, but friends of mine love doTerra and Sparks. If you look around the internet, you’ll find articles that compare various oil companies.

  15. dear friends
    these are the basic items that I have had all ten in both my medical bag and my personal bag Since I work Red Cross shelter and Soup kitchen for many years I found that I have had to have two sets of bags ; One that I guard with my life while the other was always Quick to throw at anyone who Panic Scream and then TAKE then DEMAND MORE
    I HAVE some thing to say which most will ignore but the daily allowance is some thing that US Gov. National Instru. Health / US Army dream up for the minimal about of Vitamins and Minerals THAT a Person needs to stay a life I personally try to keep a tiny bottle 60 PER Caplets of max amount of one a day Vitamins / Minerals for a 72 hours bags and larger bottle 500 caplets per 30 day supplies the others around you will be asking something to boost everything so to have extra is really needed even sleep aids after giving B-12 TO THE GUARDS / POLICE YOU’LL NEED TO HAVE in another pocket of hard sweet candy to claim that worker and/or child who is worry the shelter roof coming off like it’s home did …

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  17. Hi Lisa,

    I read you article and would like to let you know that I just created a medication emergency kit. It has many of the items you mention. I created because when my daughters were going away to college I could not find anything on the market that suited me.

    It is currently on indiegogo. If people are interested, I will start producing it on a wider scale, otherwise, it will remain just for friends and family.

  18. Curt in the Dirt

    An 11th item I would include is Vick’s Vapor Rub. I has a lot of uses medicinal as well as fire starting, insect repellent, lubricant for tools and other equipment.
    I would also include Naproxen. One tablet every 12 hours can make joint pain bearable. I would still take Ibuprofen because of it’s anti inflammatory uses. This can help muscles recover quicker after exertion.

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  23. Children should NOT be given aspirin because of the risk of developing Reyes Syndrome. This is a good list just to get some ideas, but that first sentence about aspirin really worried me.

  24. WOW, what a helpful article, and all the helpful feedbacks from everyone over the years! I am definite LATE chiming in, but here goes, some thots while reading all of your inputs:
    1) If a pain or soreness you have is localized, i.e. only on a certain area or spot of your body, then some gel or ointment is safer than taking a medication orally. Try safe and effective remedies like the following 1st: Magnesium oil; an Essential oil mixture (e.g. Wintergreen + Ginger + Frankincense); and Ketoprofen gel. Mind you, don’t use these on open sores, wounds, or in contact with your eyes. And try not to use any essential oils on, or around, pregnant women or children below four years.
    2) Trying natural remedies is awesome, and is always my 1st choice – IF I am in no hurry to recover (for any emergency needs or important appointments). Let’s say I have a major presentation to make in a day or two, and a bad cough, food poisoning, or bacterial throat infection sets in. Then I would take some pharmaceuticals for quick relief. After that, I would revert to whatever natural remedies I have.
    Most times, when I am in no rush, I would allow my body to recover naturally, by “going natural” for at least a week or two before seeking allopathic medical attention – if I haven’t recovered by then. Now, this is not to say I won’t go to a hospital a.s.a.p. if I got a snake bite, a concussion, or a broken leg!
    3) The main challenge & downside with natural remedies is “spoilage” or the loss of efficacy over time. Essential oils, water-soluble vitamins, Omega 3s, plant-based supplements, etc. can lose their potency easily when not stored in cool, dry & dark places with airtight packaging. Relying on these after 2 years’ storage can really be iffy. (Herbal tinctures in alcohol may last a few decades though.) So do plan ahead when you stock up on natural supplements and herbals.
    4) Since the worldwide Covid scare these past few years, I have added the following to my home & bugout packs: Betadine-Iodine throat spray, Zinc throat spray, Colloidal/Nano silver solution, Oregano capsules, misc. Herbal tinctures (e.g. echinacea, goldenseal, astragalus, mullein, marshmallow, propolis, etc.), Elderberry-Sambucus syrup, Hydroxychloroquine tablets and Ivermectin tablets.
    5) In the long haul, it’d best if we made friends and networked with qualified medical professionals whom we can rely on to safely hook up IV (intravenous) lines for us in times of emergency. Some nutrients and medicines work better and faster this way. Oral intakes cannot happen when a person is unable to eat or drink. Plus, we can’t eat enough vitamins to reverse an acute condition.
    6) And oh, take it from someone who needs reading glasses: you are going to need a number of pairs of those stashed here and there when SHTF or something like that happens. Plus reliable LED torchlights and lamps with LOTS of spare batteries.
    7) My main concerns now are how to access Clean Air, Clean Water supply (and achieve continuous good sewage), and Farm our own Foods, IF things go really bad. Most of us live in or around cities, relying solely on ammenities supplied by the local government.
    Well, hope all these points help. Stay well, and prosper in every good and necessary thing, Everybody!

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