Many people store their medications in the bathroom. But this popular spot is actually one of the worst places to keep medicine. Bathroom cabinets tend to be warm and humid, an environment that accelerates a drug’s decomposition. Instead, keep medicines in a cool, dry place away from the bathroom and out of a child’s reach.
This is especially true for tablets and capsules. Unnecessary exposure to heat and moisture can cause them to lose their potency prior to their labeled expiration date. For example, a warm, muggy environment can cause aspirin tablets to break down into acetic acid (vinegar) and salicyclic acid, both of which are potential stomach irritants.
If you must keep them in the bathroom, always keep the containers tightly closed. Never repackage them.
If medicines are to be stored in a kitchen, store them away from the stove, sink, and any heat-releasing appliances.
In rare cases, an improperly stored medication can actually become toxic. To prevent danger, follow these tips:
- Store drugs out of harm’s way. Always keep them out of the reach of children.
- Don’t leave the cotton plug in a medication vial. Doing so can draw moisture into the container.
- Check the expiration date each time you take a drug. Discard and replace any medications that are out of date.
- Never use a medication that has changed color, consistency, or odor, regardless of the expiration date. Throw away capsules or tablets that stick together, are harder or softer than normal, or cracked or chipped.
- Ask your pharmacist about any specific storage instructions.
Travelers need to follow additional tips for safe storage of their medications:
- Before leaving home, list all your medications, as well as the name and number of your pharmacist and physician.
- To prevent your medicine from making a detour while on vacation, keep your medicine in a carry-on bag rather than a checked suitcase.
- Bring an extra supply with you in case your return is delayed.
- Never leave medicines in an automobile, where heat can rapidly destroy the drug.
- Watch time changes. Set a separate watch to your usual time so you can remember when to take any medication.
More information on travel tips and safe storage of medicines is available through the American Society of Health Systems Pharmacists at http://www.safemedication.com.
by Brenda A. Kuper, M.D.