3 Ways the Expiration Date Keeps Your Medicine Safe

The expiration date is there for a reason; pay attention!

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A common understanding is that medicine past the expiration is dangerous to use… but why?

There are many reasons why paying attention to the expiration dates on your medicine will help keep you and your family safe.

Read on for important information after the jump:

Loss of potency

Loss of potency in medicine past the expiration is the most common reason to discard old medications.

Most of the time, it is not poisonous to take expired medicine—especially when it comes to common headache, allergy or cough medicine.

What does make loss of potency dangerous, however, is when a lifesaving medicine has become less effective over time.

An Epi-pen, for example, needs to be at its optimal strength in a time of need.

Other medications that need to be at optimal strength at all times include—heart rhythm medication, antibiotics, nitroglycerine, children’s medication (because they have not fully developed their immune system) and any other life saving medicines.

Change in the chemical composition

After a certain point (expiration), the composition of the medicine can begin to deform.

Because drugs are chemical compounds, they can break down and ultimately cause unintended effects.

Indicators of chemical alterations are change in color, texture or development of odor.

Some antibiotics can even become toxic after their expiration date as tetracycline (a common antibiotic) is one of these.

Though the change in chemical composition of a medication is rare, the risk of physical decay is not one that should be taken on any accord.

Acquisition of bacteria

Bacteria is especially common in liquid medicines and far less common in pill forms.

Liquid medicine includes gel capsules and suspensions (active ingredient which is suspended within a liquid substance).

The contamination of these forms of medication is very common along with the accelerated loss of potency.

Take care to pay close attention to the expiration date of liquid medicine.

Other reasons to mind the expiration date

Though loss of potency, change in chemical composition and bacteria are the most relevant reasons to get rid of expired medications, there are other factors that will likely bring further alarm to this topic.

Getting rid of expired medicine can prevent many of the following accidents:

  • Accidental ingestion of old, incorrectly labeled medicine.
  • Children’s ingestion—accidentally taking strong medicine that should have been discarded.
  • Abuse of no longer needed prescription medications.

These factors should all be considered due to the fact that fatal poisoning from medication is the most common death from poisoning—whether it is intentional or completely accidental.

Beginning in 1979, expiration dates on medicine have been a required precaution; the date is the point at which the manufacturer can guarantee full potency and safety of a drug.

With any medication, its safety and effectiveness will decrease over time, though some faster than others.

Paying attention to the expiration dates on your medicine is good practice regardless of the drug’s strength.

Further, if there are any questions or concerns about a particular drug, ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice.

About the Author:
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