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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Is it okay to use expired asthma/ COPD meds?

The following was originally published on December 18, 2014 at

You found your asthma medicine sitting at the bottom of your sock drawer and now you're wondering: Can I still use it? Is it safe? Will it still work? Is it okay to use expired asthma medicines?

Asthma medicine has a tendency to be expensive. One Advair Discus costs over $100 just for one month. Even with good health insurance, I pay about $1 for each Singulair pill. The cost of other asthma medicines can add up to.

If you're normal like me, you lose your inhalers. I just opened three brand new Ventolin inhalers in the past week, and I already can't find two of them. I did find one when I cleaned under the bed, yet it was dated January 2009.

While it's recommended every asthmatic have a rescue inhaler like Ventolin on hand at all times, and that we replace it every year, I know of many of you guys who have one yet it's done nothing but sit at the bottom of your sock drawer. Now you're short of breathe and wondering, can I still use it?

More recently I received a question about how long Advair is good for. This person had no insurance and wanted to know if it was safe to use an Advair that was opened but expired four months ago. She also had one Advair that was expired but was never opened.

Are these medicines safe? Would they still be effective if used?

When I was a kid I'd lose inhalers all the time. If the one I was using ran out, and I for some reason didn't tell my mom I needed a new one, and I was having a raging asthma attack in the middle of the night, I'd rummage my room hoping to find a lost one.

Then I'd find one and take a puff. If you've ever taking a hit off an expired Ventolin inhaler you'd know it, because it tastes like rotten mints. Yet you wouldn't mind so much, because it still helped you get your breath back.

More recently I did some research to find out what the scientific evidence was regarding old and expired medicine. I asked the pharmacist where I work, and he gave the old stand-by and political response, "It's good for up to a year."

Yet that didn't satisfy me. So I continued my search for answers. What I learned is that science has pretty much proven that no asthma medicine will harm you if you use it beyond its expiration date.

So in that sense you can feel okay about using expired medicines. I mean, I'm proof expired asthma medicines don't kill. If nothing else, I've proved that many times.

As far as potency, over time asthma medicines do become less potent, although they will still work better than using nothing. In fact, most new medicines are good for two to three years from the day they are produced so long as they remain in the original packaging.

And considering a medicine may sit on the shelf of storerooms, trucks and then pharmacies, the expiration date is generally listed as one year as of your purchase date.

So you can see there really is no scientific reasoning for that expiration date. The medicine might still be potent for some time. So if your package is not opened, you should be able to use older medicine (within reason of course).

However, once the original container is opened for use or dispensing, the expiration date on the container no longer applies. In fact, according to, this ABC News post, the expiration date of a medicine is actually just the predicted date at which the drug will lose 10 percent of its potency.

Once a medicine loses more than 10 percent of its potency it's no longer considered effective. From that point on, it continues to lose more and more of it's potency. Plus, if it's an an inhaler, it starts to taste nasty.

The expiration date also assumes you are storing the medicine at the recommended temperature and humidity. Most medicine should be somewhere between 59 and 86 degrees F (15-30 degrees C) and away from light and moisture. You'll have to check the package of your medicines to see the exact recommendations.

This means that asthma medicines should not be stored in the bathroom where it will be exposed to high humidifiers during and after showers. So I suppose the bathroom medicine cabinet’s not such a wise place to store your meds after all.

While most asthma drugs are not hazardous if used after their expiration dates, the efficacy of the medicine after that date can no longer be guaranteed. Thus, if you are using an expired medicine you may not be getting the expected results.

So, should you use those expired asthma medicines? At least now you can make an educated decision.

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