Medication Expiration Dates – what do they mean, and should you keep and take them after their expiration date?
If you have medications on the shelf that aren’t daily medications, just ‘take as needed’, either prescription or off the shelf, you’ll notice they all have specific expiration dates. In a world of high-cost medications, even expensive over the counter (OTC) meds, one might try and stretch their budget and think taking a past-due date medication is OK. Let’s see what the experts say…
A medication’s expiration date is the final day that the manufacturer guarantees the full potency and safety of a medication. These dates began showing up on pill bottles in 1979 when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began regulating medications to improve their safety. According to the FDA, consumers should not use expired medications because of their potential risks. What are those risks?
Currently, the antibiotic Tetracycline is known to be harmful when expired, and has caused Fanconi syndrome, a rare form of kidney damage that can lead to severe dehydration. Some medications that are taken to treat critical health issues should always be taken before the manufacturer’s expiration date because they can break down quickly afterward. These include insulin, EpiPens, antibiotics, nitroglycerin and birth control. The risks here aren’t directly related to serious harm but to the effectiveness of the medication itself. For example, imagine having an allergic reaction that has caused breathing issues and your expired EpiPen isn’t as effective as it would be unexpired. This could be the difference between life and death. A less than potent nitroglycerin pill could similarly be fatal.
Over the Counter medications that treat aches, pains and allergies aren’t likely to harm you if used past their expiration date. A U.S. military study showed some medications retain their potency levels up to one year after expiration. Examples include ibuprofen (Advil), pseudoephedrine (Sudafed), acetaminophen (Tylenol), as well as topical creams or ointments. They may not pose health risks if taken after they expire, although experts warn they may not work as well, or at all, to alleviate symptoms you use them to treat. An example would be low-dose aspirin taken for preventing heart problems. If expired, this could increase your risk of stroke or heart attack, just to save a buck.
Experts note that how and where you store medications can impact the speed of degradation of potency for meds. Heat and moisture are the biggest factors that affect the breakdown of medications. They recommend storage of meds be in a cool, dry location to maximize safety and effectiveness up to their date of expiration. The bathroom medicine cabinet is probably not the best choice. And always read the instructions, as some medications require special handling procedures, like insulins and oral liquid antibiotics likely require refrigeration.
The bottom line is this – it’s best to use medications before their expiration date passes. While some meds can still be effective for a year or more past that date, there’s no sure way to guarantee effectiveness and safety past that date. Is your life worth the risk to save a few dollars? If you have any questions, consult your healthcare provider or pharmacist for the best expert advice.