Hot Summer Temperatures and Your Medication: What You Need to Know

As temperatures continue to climb throughout the country this summer, it’s important to keep yourself, loved ones, and pets cool and comfortable. It’s also important to safely store medications, as exposure to extreme heat can physically alter over-the-counter and prescription drugs, causing them to lose potency or even become harmful to your health.

If you don’t have air conditioning in your home, medications stored in a bathroom, bedroom, or closet can easily be exposed to temperatures over the generally recommended “room temperature” of 68 degrees to 77 degrees Fahrenheit, which allows for occasional dips and highs anywhere from 59 degrees to 86 degrees. Medications can also be exposed to extreme heat while you’re on vacation or traveling in your car. Even if you do have access to air conditioning, power outages due to brownouts or summer thunderstorms can cause medications to be exposed to higher temperatures.

Effect of Heat on Medication

While losing the efficacy of an over-the-counter allergy medication while on vacation due to heat exposure may just be an inconvenience, there can be serious consequences for some individuals if their prescription medication becomes altered. For example, when stored over 98 degrees, epilepsy and anxiety medication Lorazepam can lose up to 75% of its potency. Insulin, thyroid medication, and birth control can also lose their effectiveness in high temperatures. Medication stored in aerosolized containers, such as asthma inhalers, can also lose their effectiveness in high heat and even explode if stored in temperatures over 120 degrees. Furthermore, diagnostic test strips, such as those used to test for pregnancy and blood sugar levels, are extremely sensitive to humidity — too much moisture in the air could dilute the test liquid and potentially give a false reading.

Proper Medication Storage at Home and Away

In order to keep medication safe and effective, doctors and pharmacists recommend storing over-the-counter and prescription drugs in a cool, dark, and dry place in your home, such as a closet or cabinet. Don’t store drugs in bathroom medicine cabinets, as bathrooms tend to be hot and humid. It’s especially important to keep drugs out of direct sunlight.

If your house gets very hot and humid in the summer, consider storing medication in your refrigerator. However, ask your doctor or pharmacist before refrigerating any drugs, as colder temperatures may also affect the potency of medication, and may alter the consistency of some liquid drugs.

Planning a vacation or business road trip? Don’t relegate medication to your vehicle trunk, where temperatures can soar. Similarly, if you taking a flight, don’t pack your medication in a checked bag that will be stored in the plane’s cargo, which can get extremely cold.

Spoiled Medication? Here’s What to Do

It’s important to check your medication once in awhile, especially in hot weather, for signs of spoilage or damage. Have the pills at the bottom of the container become slightly melted and stuck together? Does the medication or its coating appear to have changed consistency or color? Don’t take any medication that appears different, as this may be a sign of damage. Call your doctor or pharmacist, as some may replace the drugs for free. Check with your insurance provider as well, as some may reimburse you for a replacement dose.

Do not toss prescription medication in the trash, where it might be ingested by children, animals, or adults searching for discarded medication. In addition, do not flush medication down the drain, as it can taint the water supply. Many communities have drug “take-back” programs, in which local police departments or pharmacies will collect damaged, unused, or expired drugs and dispose of them properly.

If your community doesn’t offer one of these programs, or if it’s only held a few times a year, the FDA recommends you remove the drugs from its original packaging, mix it with an undesirable substance, such as coffee grounds or kitty litter, and place it in a sealable bag or container before throwing it in the trash.

Visit the FDA’s website for more information on proper prescription drug disposal and finding a drug take-back program in your community.

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