What to do when your medication is expired

It can be pretty awful to wake up with a foggy head and a case of the sniffles, but it can be worse if you go to the medicine cabinet to find that the use by date on the packet of allergy medication has passed.

If you’ve ever wondered ‘are they really out of date?’ you’re not alone, and at least one in five Australians has taken an expired medication.

Whether or not you can take medication past its expiration date is one of the most common questions asked to doctors and pharmacists. Their short and cautious response is probably going to be ‘no’, but according to the Medical Daily that’s because the answer is far more complicated.

Depending on the type of medication, how you have stored it, for how long and the condition it is in, the answer varies.

It’s certainly not recommended you take something if the packet says you shouldn’t. However, unlike food, medication doesn’t spoil in the same way, though it does become less effective.

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Medicinal expirations were introduced to signal the date the manufacturer could no longer guarantee the entire effectiveness and safety of the product in its original packaging.

Once the packet is popped or the lid unsealed, the use by date on the packaging goes out the window. If you think about this in terms of food, it’s unlikely you’d consider eating that tin of peaches if you opened it a year ago.

The Food and Drug Administration in the United States details the time before the use by date on medication as the best time for its strength, quality and purity.

Of course when it comes to life saving or emergency medications (like insulin, beta-blockers, coagulants or antibiotics) you should avoid using these after the use by date. If in doubt about specific medication it is best to talk with your health care professional.

Have you ever taken medication after the expiration date?