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Baylor College of Medicine News

Heat, medications don't mix

While the extreme summer temperatures may cause you to overheat, don't let the same thing happen to your medications. Doctors at Baylor College of Medicine say leaving your prescriptions or over-the-counter pain killers in your car can damage their effectiveness.

Potency affected

"Medications can be altered by extreme heat and even moisture, causing them to become less potent before their expiration dates," said Dr. Hani Jneid, assistant professor of medicine - cardiology at BCM and interventional cardiologist at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center.

For example, Jneid said aspirin can begin to break down into acetic acid and salicylic acid, both of which can irritate the stomach and not have the intended medicinal effect.

Dr. Sara Bezek, assistant professor of medicine - emergency medicine at BCM, and her colleagues at the Harris County Hospital District's Ben Taub General Hospital said that some medications are more sensitive to heat than others.

"For example, some medication for hypothyroidism should be stored away from light and moisture and at a temperature no higher than 86 degrees Fahranheit," the group noted. "Another example includes open vials of insulin, a medication for diabetes that should be stored at room temperature, can lose its strength when exposed to higher temperatures."

In general, most medications should be kept in a cool, dry location and in their original container.

How to store medications

Here are some more tips for storing medication:

  • Never leave medications inside an unattended vehicle.
  • While driving, keep medications in passenger areas of the vehicle, not in the trunk or glove box.
  • Do not store medications in the bathroom because of high humidity and frequent temperature changes.
  • Keep all medications away from appliances that generate heat such as above the refrigerator.
  • Immediately pick up all mail order drugs so they are not exposed to the elements.

When to toss out meds

If medication is exposed to heat, do not take if it has changed color, texture, or odor even if it has not expired. Capsules or tablets that stick together, are harder or softer than normal, or are cracked or chipped might also be damaged by heat. Always call your doctor or pharmacists to help determine if medications need to be thrown out.

Most medications will have temperature and expiration dates on the bottle. It is important to check this information periodically to ensure medications are still effective. Another safety reminder is to make sure prescription drugs are also in a location that is locked to ensure they do not end up in the wrong hands, Jneid said.