Healthwise: The dangers that lurk in your bathroom

What is the most dangerous room in your home?

For many, it’s the bathroom.

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It’s common for seniors - when they get up after using the toilet in the middle of the night - to have a sudden drop in blood pressure and fainting. Next to the stairs, it’s the worst place to fall; tile floors and ceramic fixtures are hard on heads, hips and other bones.

Even more danger resides above the sink – in the traditional medicine cabinet. Here we store, in addition to our current medications, drugs that are leftover, expired or discontinued.

Most of the time, you should take a complete course of antibiotics (unless your doctor advises otherwise). Not taking the antibiotics long enough may not completely eradicate an infection but rather allow the microorganism to develop resistance to the medication.

Doctors and pharmacists recommend that you not save those discontinued or expired medications. Most are not marked with a best before date so we don’t know if old medications have lost effectiveness or may actually be toxic.

The more bottles of medication you keep around, the easier it is to mix them up particularly late at night and early in the morning when we’re more blurry eyed and foggy headed. The labels are not always easy to read and may be worn off.

Dispose of these no longer used medications the safe way.

Don’t take the easy way out of tossing them in the trash (where animals may ingest them) or toilet (where they contaminate water). They can be safely disposed of for free at your local pharmacy and some medical clinics. They aren’t recycled; we have them safely removed and processed without harming the environment.

Of course, people leave medications in many places outside of the bathroom, including bedside tables, kitchen tables and counters. I suggest to my patients to keep their regular daily medications in a convenient place where they will be prompted to remember each dose.

But another important consideration is the risk to others. Keep them beyond the reach – and exploration – of small children and animals.

If your home is open to teenagers and adults – including those who might be visiting or attending a party, keep your medications locked up. Nosy friends and relatives may learn confidential medical information by looking at your medications.

Others looking for potentially mind-altering or abusable drugs, will wander into bedrooms and go through medicine cabinets. They may be searching for sleeping pills, pain medications and stimulants.

Many people assume that if they buy a medication over the counter in the drug store, it must be much safer than any prescription drug. This is not true. In my next column, we’ll explore potentially dangerous medications we can buy without a prescription and what you need to know to reduce your risks of serious side effects and interactions.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician in Burnaby. His Healthwise column appears regularly in this paper. For more on achieving your positive potential in life, see his website at davidicuswong.wordpress.com.

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