Most of the illnesses we will face in an emergency are the same ones we face now. Aches, pains, colds, flu, fevers, sore throats, runny nose, upper respiratory infections (URI), stomach aches diarrhea and digestive tract problems will all still be around and in many case will increase during an emergency.

All the medications listed in this article are available over-the-counter (OTC), meaning they are available without a prescription. In fact all the medications I mention (except Sudafed) are available at Wal Mart in the $.88 section or at a Dollar Store for, you guessed it, $1. OTC medicines come in both name brand and generic. Name brands and generics contain the exact same active ingredients. The generics are the ones you can get for $.88 or $1. The name brands cost more because companies spend big money in advertizing to establish brand recognition. I will mention each medications brand name and generic name throughout the article.

I am not a doctor. My medical background is 3 years as a Med-Tech in the US Army almost 40 years ago and a life of helping to raise kids that had more than their share of aches, pains and ills. I am not giving medical advice. I am only giving you my opinion based on my personal experience and study. If you need medical advice, seek out the help of a licensed medical professional.

Even though OTC medications do not require a prescription, they can cause problems if not taken correctly. Taking too much aspirin can cause stomach, lung and kidney problems. Taking too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can cause liver damage.

Before taking any OTC medication be sure to read the label and follow the instructions on dosage and frequency of use. If you have any questions, contact a medical professional.

Pain and Fever

There are three major drugs used for the treatment of minor to moderate pain and fever.

Aspirin – Brand names Bayer and St. Joseph’s.

Aspirin or Salicylic Acid has been used for many years as a treatment for pain, fever and inflammation. It is also used to prevent strokes and heart attacks because of its anti-clotting properties.
Aspirin has some side effects. High doses can cause stomach irritation, bleeding ulcers, fluid in the lungs, kidney failure and ringing in the ears. Aspirin should not be taken by children younger than 14 years of age because it may cause fatal brain swelling in infants and children.

Because of the many problems associated with aspirin, other medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used instead of aspirin.

Acetaminophen – Brand names Tylenol and Panadol.

Acetaminophen is the most common OTC medication for fever and minor aches and pains,
Pay attention to maximum adult, children and infant dosages. Exceeding maximum dosage can cause liver damage. Acetaminophen should be avoided in patients with liver diseases.

Ibuprofen – Brand names Motrin and Advil.

Ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory drug used to treat inflammation, fever, and minor to moderate pain. It is great for the treatment of pain and inflammation from minor orthopedic injuries. It can also be used to reduced inflammation pain from kidney stones and gallstones.

Ibuprofen can be used by all age groups except infants under 2 months old. Ibuprofen should not be taken by individuals with kidney disease, by individuals with a history of stomach or bowel bleeding or by individuals taking blood thinners.

Naproxen – Brand names Aleve, Naprosyn and Anaprox.

Naproxen is much like ibuprofen except that its effects last twice as long. The same cautions that apply to Ibuprofen above, also apply to Naproxen..

Upper Respiratory Infections

Upper Respiratory Infections (URI) include the common cold, sinus infections, ear infections and sometimes bronchial infections. URIs are caused by a virus. Symptoms usually appear 1-3 days after infection and usually last 7 to 10 days. Treatment is concentrated on symptoms that may include head and sinus congestion, sore throat, cough, headache, earache, sneezing, runny nose, watering eyes, and low grade fever..

Head and Sinus Congestion

Head and Sinus Congestion can be treated by taking a decongestant. A decongestant shrinks the blood vessels in the nasal and sinus passages.

Pseudoephedrine – Brand name Sudafed

The most common medication is pseudoephedrine. It is an ingredient used in making meth so the government has restricted its sell. You do not need a prescription to purchase it but you will need to as the ask the pharmacist who keeps it behind the counter. Pseudoephedrine is an adrenaline like drug. It should not be taken by individuals who have high blood pressure or who have palpitations or a rapid heartbeat.

Humidified air, Vicks Vaporub type ointment, salt water nasal sprays, and nasal irrigation with a neti pot are effective additions or alternatives to oral decongestants. I don’t suggest nasal spray decongestants (other than saline or sugar based) because they cause a “rebound” effect where nasal symptoms return when discontinued.

A cough is usually cause by a dry throat or by the body trying to clear mucus from the throat and bronchials.

Cough Drops/ Hard Candy

Hard candy or medicated cough drops can help relieve a cough from a dry throat. The effect is temporary and wears off as soon as the cough drop is gone. Humidified air is also helpful in reducing cough caused by a dry throat.
Cough drops can be a choking hazard for children and are not suggested for children under 2 years old.

Guaifenesin – Brand Name Mucinex

A cough can also be caused by your body trying to remove mucus congestion from your chest. Guaifenesin is a expectorant that thins the mucus to help your body clear the mucus out. Your cough may initially increase after taking gauifenesin but then will decrease in frequency and intensity as the mucus is removed. Drinking water will help gauifenesin work more effectively.

Sore Throat

Most sore throats are caused by viruses and go away on their own in a few days. Other sore throats like Strep are caused by a bacteria. Initially it is hard to tell the difference. In general a sore throat from a cold will be accompanied by a runny nose and watery eyes. Strep is usually not accompanied by a runny nose. A sore throat from a cold will usually go away after a few days. A sore throat from strep will be more persistent and will usually require antibiotics to get rid of it. Strep can also be accompanied by pus pockets on the back of the throat.

Treat your sore throat initially as if it is virus caused. If after 4-6 days it is not going away, have it checked for strep. A sore throat can be soothed by sucking hard candy and medicated cough drops. Pain can also be lessened by ibuprofen which will also help reduce the inflammation.

Headache and Earache

Most headaches and earaches from colds are caused by congestion of the nasal passages and ear canals. Use pseudoephedrine as mentioned above to relieve congestion and ibuprofen as mentioned above to address pain and inflammation.

Persistent earaches accompanied by a persistent sore throat can be a sign of bacterial infection and should be screened to see if antibiotics are needed.

Sneezing, Runny Nose, and Watery Eyes

Sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes can be acute, from a cold or can be chronic, from allergies. I likeDiphenhydramine to treat cold symptoms and Cetirizine to treat allergy symptons.

Diphenhydramine – Brand name Benadryl

Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine used to treat sneezing, runny nose, and watery eyes which are cause by histamines. Diphenhydramine has a major side effect, it will make you drowsy. It is an active ingredient in many sleeping pills. This side effect is why I like diphenhydramine to fight cold symptoms because sleep is helpful in getting over a cold.

Cetirizine – Brand name Zyrtec

Cetirizine is also an antihistamine but without the sleepy side effect. It is great to help fight chronic allergies because it fights the symptoms of allergies while you carry on a regular life.

There are other non-drozy antihistamines like loratadine (Claritin) and fexofenadine (Allegra) but I find cetirizine in the $.88 shelf at Wal Mart and at Dollar Stores so that is why I go with cetirizine.


The common cold and influenza are often mistaken for each other but the flu is a much worse viral infection. Symptoms include chills, fever, sore throat, muscle pains, severe headache, coughing, weakness, fatigue and general body aches. Symptoms can also include nausea and vomiting.

Influenza is usually seasonal and hits hardest during the winter months. The easiest way to tell the difference between a cold and the flu is that the flu is not accompanied by sneezing, runny nose or watery eyes and A cold does not give you severe overall body aches, chills, nausea or vomiting.

Flu symptom last a few days up to 2 weeks depending on the flu strain. Influenza is caused by a virus so antibiotics will not do anything to help. Rest, plenty on liquids and treating the symptoms is the best course of action.

Acetaminophen can be used to fight sever fever and overall pain. I like to rotate acetaminophen and ibuprofen every 4 hours to get the best of both medications without taxing the liver or kidneys. Address sore throats, congestion, and coughing as you would in a cold.

Nausea, Indigestion and Diarrhea

Gastro-Intestinal problems are often inter-related. One great overall medication is Bismuth Subsalicylate.

Bismuth Subsalicylate – Brand name Pepto-Bismol

Bismuth Subsalicylate can be used for treatment of indigestion, nausea, and diarrhea. Bismuth Subsalicylate coats the stomach to relieve irritation and acts as an anti-acid. It is available in both liquid and chewable tablets. It should not be used by infants, young children, or breastfeeding women.


Bismuth subsalicylate is a good first treatment for mild nausea.

Dimenhydrinate – Brand name Dramamine

Dimenhydrinate is used to control nausea and vomiting. It is also used for motion sickness and dizziness.


Bismuth subsalicylate is a good first treatment for mild indigestion.

Ranitidine – Brand name Zantac

Ranitidine is used to help treat heartburn and indigestion. It controls stomach acid secretion.

Calcium carbonate – Brand name Rolaids, Tums

Calcium carbonate is an antacids that works immediately to relieve acid indigestion and heartburn. It is available in both chewable tablets and liquid.


Take plenty of liquids to avoid dehydration caused by diarrhea.

Bismuth subsalicylate is a good first treatment for mild diarrhea.

Loperamide – Brand name Imodium A-D

Loperamide is used for the treatment of diarrhea. Don’t take loperamide for more than 2 days and stop taking it if bloating or constipation occur.


Constipation is hard feces that make it difficult to have a bowel movement. Abdominal cramps may also occur. Constipation may be a symptom of more serious medical conditions if combined with chronic abdominal pain, bloating, fever, or bleeding from the rectum.

To avoid constipation be sure to drink plenty of liquids and eat fiber rich foods.

Bisacodyl – Brand name Correctol, or Dulcolax

Bisacodyl is a laxative that is used to soften and to help move stool through the bowels. Bisacodyl, as well as all laxatives, should not be used for more than 1 week.

Skin and Wound Care

Triple Antibiotic Ointment – For cuts and scrapes. Treats and prevents infections from minor cuts and abrasions

Hydrogen Proxide – For cleaning cuts. Diluted, it can be used as a dental cleaner. Apply to the edges of wounds.

Hydrocortisone Cream – For minor rashes, itches, skin irritations, insect bites or poison ivy.

Zinc Oxide Ointment – rashes, chaffing, skin protection.

Antifungal Cream – athletes foot, jock itch, nail fungus

Anti-Itch Cream – Benedryl/Zinc Acetate cream, relieves itching.


Ed Rogers

Copyright “Keep It Simple” 2012.  All Rights Reserved.

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