Oxygen, light, and water are among the substances that humans need to survive. However, those same life-affirming elements can be destructive if they’re present where many people keep their medications, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Take a look in your medicine chest. What’s there may trigger a nostalgic swing down memory lane: the cough syrup you used to give your toddler — now a teenager; the birth control pills you used to take before you hit menopause five years ago; and a trove of spotted or discolored pills, circa sometime in the last decade.
Unlike Social Security numbers, which we use our entire lives, we’re not meant to hold on to medication for an eternity. But if you’re like many people, you probably do. Cleaning out the medicine chest — and making sure your medications are kept in places where they won’t deteriorate — will help protect you. Here are some pointers to help keep you vigilant.
Is it all right to keep pills in the bathroom medicine cabinet?
No, although that’s where many people store them. It may be dark when you close the medicine cabinet, but chances are the humidity in the air after a shower will seep in. This begins a process that ultimately breaks down your drugs. Even turning on the hot water in the sink can allow moisture to filter into the cabinet.
“Medication in general does not tolerate moisture,” says Calvin Chin, a San Francisco-based pharmacist. In fact, he says, “When you take medicine, it’s the moisture in your stomach that breaks it down.”
What’s a good place to store my drugs?
Instead of the bathroom medicine chest, try to store medications and vitamins in a cool, dry place away from bright windows or storage rooms affected by outdoor weather. This may be in your bedroom inside a locked cabinet drawer or in a kitchen cabinet. Make sure the cabinet isn’t above a stove or sink, where heat and steam could create moisture problems similar to bathroom storage. Don’t choose the refrigerator, unless the pharmacist, label, or package insert advises refrigeration after opening. Remember that the refrigerator is a cool place, but it’s also moist and easy access for curious children.
Also, get in the habit of reading drug labels first because there are always exceptions. For example, most types of insulin — a medication used to treat diabetes — need to be refrigerated before opening. Once opened, insulin may be kept unrefrigerated as long as it’s stored away from heat and light. How long it can be kept unrefrigerated may vary depending on the type of insulin.
In order to protect children, keep medication and all vitamins out of reach and in a locked cabinet. Kids are able to scale cabinets often by sheer determination alone, and the bright colors of vitamins and nutritional supplements can attract them like candy. For this reason, vitamins containing iron (and most multivitamins do) should always be kept away from them. Thirty percent of children’s deaths from medication are caused by iron-containing supplements, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
What’s the best container for pills?
If you’re a parent or even if you have frequent visits from kids, make sure your pharmacist