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Medicine and heat: Pharmacist offers tips to keep your prescriptions safe and effective

Jul 11, 2019

St. Joseph’s/Candler’s Allison Presnell also shares tips on safe practices when traveling with medications

Where do you store your medications at your house? If your answer is a medicine cabinet in the bathroom, you may want to consider moving it.

That’s because heat and humidity can negatively affect a medication’s potency and effectiveness. And with the dog days of summer upon us, it’s the perfect time to review your medication storage habits both at home and when traveling.

Allison Presnell, PharmD, BCACP, BC-ADM, clinical pharmacy specialist with St. Joseph’s/Candler“If medications do get outside the recommended temperature range, it can cause them to break down and not work as well,” says Allison Presnell, PharmD, BCACP, BC-ADM, clinical pharmacy specialist with St. Joseph’s/Candler.

Many medications should be stored at controlled room temperature, Presnell says, which is between 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Some can handle slightly higher or lower temperatures for short bouts, but patients can run into trouble with medication safety and effectiveness when storage locations exceed 86 degrees.

So if your home is unusually hot in the summer or you’re traveling in your car for an extended period of time, it’s important to take precautions.

Where’s a good place to store my medicine?

Presnell says to keep these three things in mind when storing your medication:

  • Keep it away from direct sunlight
  • Keep it away from moisture
  • Try to keep it in its original container

“When you think about general storage of medications, keep them in a cool, dry place,” Presnell says. “A lot of people store their medications in a bathroom cabinet, but there’s a lot of moisture in the bathroom that can affect how the medicine works.”

For example, moisture and heat can damage capsules with an exterior coating, which can change how the medicine is absorbed by the body, Presnell says. Or, a lot of medications have extended release, but if the coating is damaged, the drug may be released quicker into the body, causing potential side effects.

“I recommend patients keep medications in a cabinet that is outside of their bathroom or in the kitchen, just away from the sink,” Presnell says.

What is a safe way to travel with my medication?

When you travel, it’s also important to keep medications in a cool, dry place, such as an insulated cooler or canvas bag, Presnell recommends. She also suggests keeping medications that don’t need immediate access in the trunk of the vehicle so they will not be exposed to direct sunlight.

For example, if a medication tablet melts into another tablet and you still take it, you could be getting an inaccurate dose of medicine that could potentially have harmful side effects, says Presnell.

Anytime you fly, Presnell says to keep medications in a personal, carry-on bag as opposed to checked luggage that may get lost. She also says it’s a good idea to always travel with a current list of your medications in case of emergency.

Not related to heat, but important to remember when you are traveling, is to check expiration labels. This is especially important of rescue medications that may not get used often, such as rescue inhalers, Presnell says. If you become short of breath and reach for an expired inhaler, the medicine will not be as effective in opening your airways.

Related Article: Traveling soon? Here are some tips for traveling by plane or automobile.

Can medication get too cold?

Presnell stresses the importance of keeping medications away from direct sunlight and moisture. But it’s also important to make sure medicine doesn’t get too cold, she says. This is good to keep in mind as you travel so that your medicine isn’t directly coming in contact with something really cold.

“If your medicine gets too cold, it can freeze the medication and affect how well it works,” Presnell says. “If you are going on the road and need to keep medications cool, I recommend putting it in a cooler and maybe wrapping the medication package or an ice pack in towels to avoid direct contact.”

Some medications, insulin most commonly, require refrigeration. It’s also important to make sure these medications do not freeze, but stay at their recommended temperatures by using coolers and ice packs.

Related Article: Beat the heat and stay cool with diabetes

“If you have any specific questions about proper storage of your medications, talk to your pharmacist,” Presnell encourages.  

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