Can I Take Expired Medicine?

It’s quite common for people to stock up on medicines to deal with specific medical situations. Most common pills found in people’s homes include paracetamol, anti-inflammatory painkillers, anti-allergic drugs, antacids, antibiotics, antiseptic creams, etc. As these and many others like them are used only occasionally, people tend to lose track of their expiry date. There may be situations wherein a particular medicine is needed, but it may have reached beyond its expiry date.

So, what can people do in such situations? Is it safe to take expired medicines? What will happen if you take expired medicines? To answer such questions, here are some important things to know about the expiry date of medicines.

Potency – All medicines have a certain potency, which is needed to treat a particular health condition. The potency starts to diminish soon after manufacturing and continues during storage. Loss of potency is not something that occurs only after expiry date. Drug makers conduct tests to check the rate of loss of potency, based on which an expiry date is determined. Appropriate overages are added to ensure the medicine has the required potency till its expiry date.

Taking expired medicines can be dangerous. For example, an expired antibiotic will have less potency than what is needed to treat the infection. If you take expired pills, you run the risk of serious complications. In case of expired antibiotics, your infection may spread. It can also lead to drug resistance.

Environmental factors – Every medicine has specific instructions regarding its storage. Some are required to be refrigerated whereas others may need to be stored at specific temperatures. Most medicines need to be kept in a cool, dark, and dry place, away from sunlight. If storage instructions are not followed, the medicines may become ineffective even before their expiry date.

Microbial growth – Medicines kept unused over longer periods can lead to deposition of various microbes. It can come from the air, which is teeming with a wide variety of bacteria, viruses and fungus. Chances of this are more in case of expired medicines. The packaging may lose its shield overtime, opening the way for various microorganisms. If you take such medicine, you can run into serious health issues.

Chemical changes – Some medicines may register rapid chemical changes, as compared to others. This is usually seen with medicines that are stored in liquid, gel or semi-liquid state. Taking such medicines beyond their expiry date may pose a higher risk, as compared to medicines available as tablets or capsules.

It’s clear that taking expired medicines has significant health risks. It’s strongly recommended that you do not take expired medicines. Only in extreme situations when there’s no other alternative, the option of using expired medicines can be considered. But make sure you consult a doctor before doing any such thing.

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