Various expired medications for asthma.

When you have asthma or severe allergies, it’s important to use medicine that is safe and works well. If you have an expired medicine, it’s not safe to use it. Expired medicine can be dangerous for people with asthma and severe allergies.

Many people have expired drugs sitting in their medicine cabinet. What to do if your symptoms are flaring and the only medication you have is an expired one? You may wonder if it is safe to take the expired medication.

The quick answer is no. Taking expired medication presents a serious risk for asthma and severe allergy patients. The medicine may not work effectively – or at all. However, there are situations where taking an expired medication may be better than not taking it at all. Follow up with a doctor or go to the emergency department or hospital right away if you must take an expired medication.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets expiration dates for all medicines in the United States. FDA also gives instructions on how to store the medicine. This information is written on the medicine’s label and package.

It’s important to know the expiration date of your allergy and asthma medicines. This is an important part of taking care of your health.

What happens when you take expired medicine?

When medicine gets old, it doesn’t work as well. This can happen because the chemicals in the medicine change or become weaker.

If you take old medicine, it might not help if you have an asthma attack or a bad allergic reaction. Your symptoms could get worse and you might have to go to the emergency department or hospital.

If the medicine doesn’t work well, you might think about taking more than you’re supposed to. This can be dangerous.

Can drug medications be harmful after the expiration date?

Prescribed medications are safe to use before their expiration date. However, if you take a medicine that has expired, it might not work as well. Expired medications lose their effectiveness. This means that if you need to use an expired medicine in an emergency, it might not help you as much as it should.

For example, if you have asthma and use an expired medicine, it might not make your asthma better. Or if you have a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) and use expired epinephrine, it might not stop life-threatening symptoms. So it’s important to be careful and not use medicines that have expired.

Woman's hands holding two autoinjectors of epinephrine

Can expired epinephrine be taken in an emergency?

Epinephrine is a medicine that helps treat a serious allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis. It is very important to take it quickly when you have an allergic reaction. If the epinephrine is expired, then it is too old to use. But if you don’t have any other epinephrine available, it is better to use the expired one than to not use any at all. But because the epinephrine is expired, it may not work. And your symptoms may worsen because the medication is not helping.

Does the drug remain potent after it has expired? A recent study found that expired epinephrine can still work, but it might not be as strong as fresh epinephrine. The study found epinephrine auto-injectors kept at least 84% of their medicine four years after expiration. However, it is risky to use expired epinephrine in an emergency because you want a medicine that is 100% effective.

If you have expired epinephrine, check the window on the device. If it looks strange or has particles in it, it may not work well. If it looks clear, you can use it, but you should call 911 after using it. Let the paramedics, doctors, and nurses know that you used expired epinephrine. They will watch you closely to see if you need more epinephrine.

Anaphylaxis is a very serious condition. It is important to get new epinephrine before it expires to prevent any problems.

Tips for preventing and dealing with expired medicines:

What can you do to ensure that your asthma inhalers and epinephrine treatment are not expired? Here are some tips:

  • Ask your pharmacist to automatically renew your prescriptions. You won’t have to worry about forgetting to get new medicine.
  • Use your smartphone or tablet to set a reminder for the pharmaceutical expiration dates. This way, you’ll know when it’s time to get a refill.
  • Check the expiration dates on your medicine regularly. You can do this every 6 months to a year. Some asthma inhalers have a counter that shows how many doses are left. This can help you remember when it’s time to get a new one.
  • Dispose of any prescription or over-the-counter medications past their expiration date. You can take it to a police station that has a special container for old medicine. You can also look for a place in your community that is authorized to collect old medicine.

What does drug expiration date mean?

FDA says the drug expiration date is when a medication is no longer good to use. Medicines need to stay strong, good quality, and pure to work well.

Drug expiration dates exist to make sure people are getting medicines that work. All medications are required to have a labeled expiration date.

How are drug expiration dates determined?

When drug companies want to sell a new medicine, they have to ask FDA for permission. As part of their request, they have to tell FDA how long the medicine will last before it goes bad. To figure this out, the companies do tests to see how the medicine holds up under different conditions. The FDA then checks to make sure the test results match up with what the companies say.

How should medications be stored to maintain their shelf life?

Medicines can change if they get too hot, wet, or if they are in the light for too long. It’s important to keep medicines in cool, dry, and dark places. Good places to store them are in a bathroom or medicine cabinet, kitchen cabinet, or drawers. This is true for most pills, tablets, and creams for eczema. Some medicines may need to be kept in the fridge or have other special instructions. This is true for liquid antibiotics or insulin.

To keep medicines safe and working well, it’s important to keep them in their original packaging. Make sure the caps on prescription and over-the-counter containers bottles are always on tight. Drug manufacturers print storage instructions on most medication labels or package inserts. Follow these instructions to keep your medicines safe and effective.

How should epinephrine be stored?

Epinephrine needs to be kept at a normal room temperature, which is between 68 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit. It can become unstable if it gets too hot or too cold. Do not put it in the fridge, freezer, or in a cooler with ice because it can degrade quickly and not work as well.

Epinephrine is also sensitive to light, so it should be stored in the special tube it comes with to protect it. The label on EpiPen® says to keep it between 68 and 77 degrees F, but it can be a little cooler or warmer if needed. Before using it, make sure the liquid inside is clear and not a strange color. If it looks pink, brown, cloudy, or has particles in it, you should get a new one.

Learn more storage tips for when you’re traveling with epinephrine.

How should an asthma inhaler be stored?

Asthma inhalers need to be kept in a place that is not too hot or too cold. The temperature should be between 59 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit).

There are different types of inhalers, like the ones you press down on (MDIs), the ones with powder inside (DPIs), and the ones that release a slow mist. It’s important to store them standing up straight.

If you have a DPI, don’t store it in a wet or humid place like the bathroom. The moisture can make the powder stick together.

Reviewed by:
Jacqueline Eghrari-Sabet, MD, FACAAI, is board-certified in allergy, immunology and pediatrics. She is a Medical Director for Allergy & Asthma Network. Dr. Eghrari-Sabet is the founder of Family Allergy & Asthma Care and the FAAR Institute in the Washington, DC area, where she has been in private practice since 1994. Dr. Eghrari-Sabet is Assistant Clinical Professor at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences where she mentors the next generation of doctors. She is also President of White Coat Resources, a health education consulting service.