What Happens If You Take Expired Medicine
You’re taking your daily dose of medicine when you wake up one morning with an excruciating headache that won’t go away. It’s been several days since you took any medication at all, but now you’ve got to take this last pill. Your doctor told you there were no more refills available, so what do you do?
The answer is sometimes to find another physician who will write you a new prescription. But in some cases, that may be too much hassle. What if you don’t have time to drive across town to see a different doc? And even if you do make an appointment for later that day, how can you be sure that whoever sees you has enough knowledge about your condition to know whether you need something stronger than what you already have on hand?
That’s why it’s important to learn about drugs that expire before they ever reach you. In most states, medicines must meet certain requirements to stay on shelves long-term. The FDA sets these standards, and manufacturers follow suit. Once expired, however, those same drugs aren’t necessarily safe to use. Here’s a rundown of common expiry reasons and what happens when you take them anyway.
Expired Medications Still Have Their Place
Many medications lose effectiveness over time. That doesn’t mean they should sit forgotten in the back of a closet where you’ll never see them again. Some people may choose not to renew prescriptions once they run out simply due to age. Others might forget to order refills until months later. Either way, many pharmacies offer extended-release versions specifically designed for longer dosing schedules. These products let patients take smaller doses every few hours instead of waiting for full tablets to kick in during normal times.
If you haven’t had a chance to get a refill yet, don’t rush out to the pharmacy just yet. First, check the label to see if it expires within a year. Most drugs that require refrigeration will still be good for 12 months (or two years under ideal conditions). Products that contain preservatives may only remain viable for 90 days. Keep an eye on expiration dates to avoid running into problems later.
When Is It Safe to Take Expiry Date Drugs?
Once you know exactly when a drug expires, you can decide whether to keep it around. Even though expired medications seem like a great idea, there are risks involved. For example, if you have diabetes, insulin is extremely sensitive to temperature changes. When you inject yourself with an old vial of insulin, the powder inside it could turn into a lump of sugar — which is bad news for your pancreas. So, although there are exceptions, it’s generally unsafe to take expired medicines.
But other drugs are perfectly safe to consume even after the expiration date has passed. They tend to break down rather quickly, meaning there isn’t much difference between a brand-new bottle and one sitting on the shelf. This includes pain relievers, cold and flu remedies, cough syrups, laxatives and antihistamines.
Even when drugs become ineffective, there’s no reason to throw them away. Many pharmacies donate unused medications to local hospitals, nursing homes and other organizations. If you live near a hospital, ask your pharmacist about donating unused meds. Donations also help doctors treat patients who have developed allergies to specific ingredients found in medications.
Now that we understand the potential dangers of consuming expired drugs, here are a couple of tips that may come in handy next time you’re faced with that dilemma.
How to Tell If Medicines Are Expiring
In addition to expiration dates, labels often include safety information such as “do not freeze” and “remain visible.” However, these warnings aren’t always reliable indicators of whether a product is okay to take past its expiration date. As we mentioned earlier, some medications lose effectiveness over time. That means they may work fine right up until the moment they expire. At that point, you may notice a change in potency. For instance, you may experience mild side effects from aspirin that disappear after using it for a while. Or maybe your favorite lip balm suddenly becomes less moisturizing.
To ensure that nothing goes wrong, look closely at the label. If you see anything suspicious, such as “call us immediately,” “discard outdated stock” or “expiration dated products are not returnable,” then it’s probably best to skip ahead to the next page. Also pay attention to the color coding. Green, yellow and orange bottles indicate that the medicine is OK to take. Red, purple, blue and black bottles signify that the product shouldn’t be used.
Take Extra Precautions With Expired Pills
Whether you’re looking through a green, yellow, orange or red box, it pays to read each label carefully. Look for signs that say “cannot be returned” or “outdated stock.” Those are clear indications that you shouldn’t waste your money. And if you see any kind of warning sign, don’t buy the product unless you speak directly with a representative at the store first.
While you’re at it, consider asking pharmacists about the safety of taking expired pills. Pharmacists typically have access to lots of information about drugs. They can tell you about possible interactions between various medications and warn you against potentially dangerous combinations. Just remember that your pharmacist works for you, so he or she wants to protect your health. Therefore, it’s better to err on the side of caution by avoiding expired pills altogether.
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