Storing Medications: Why You Have to Take Special Precautions During the Summer

storing medications in the summer

Storing medication at high temperatures can greatly decrease its effectiveness. Learning how to store your prescription properly could save you from taking useless or dangerous medication.

Extreme temperatures, both hot and cold, can have a profound impact on the effectiveness of over-the-counter and prescription medication. Pharmaceutical manufacturers suggest that almost every form of medication be stored in a temperature-controlled room between 58 and 86 degrees.

Take special precautions when transporting and storing these medications and always follow any additional instructions given to you by your pharmacist or doctor.

Summer Tips for Storing Medications

During summer heat waves, the sudden temperature change can cause your medication to change physically, lose potency, or change its chemical composition in a way that could damage your health. Take a few simple precautions to protect the integrity of your medication:

  1. Store your medication in a low-humidity, low temperature location. The medicine cabinet in your bathroom—a common choice for medication storage—is subject to too much humidity to be effective. Moisture is especially damaging to quick-dissolve tablets and powders.Instead, try storing your medications in a kitchen cabinet away from the heat of the stove, or in your linen closet. Avoid storing your medication on top of the fridge (the motor generates heat) or inside the fridge, which is too cold. No matter the season, store your medication well out of the reach of children.
  2. Pack for travel. The temperature in your car can dramatically increase in a short amount of time, making it a poor choice for storing your medications. Instead, pack a special bag or purse in which you keep all of your medication. A soft, cooler lunch bag is ideal for road trips.Even temperature fluctuations that last only five to ten minutes can irrevocably damage your medication, so make the pharmacy your last stop when running errands.

    If you are flying, pack your medication in your carry-on. The extreme cold of the compressed air in the cargo, combined with the pressure of high altitude may affect your medications. During the summer, the uncontrolled temperature of the cargo hold can rocket up to over 100 degrees as the metal of the plane heats in the sun.

  3. Use original packaging. Some products like foil or bubble wrap promise to protect your medication, but there is no evidence that they are effective. Instead, use the original packaging that your medication came in and never expose it to the elements.The exception to this rule is “pill-per-day” containers. Make sure that you purchase one that is airtight and store it as indicated above—away from heat, cold, and excessive light. If you are concerned about forgetting to take your medication, store it in a drawer that you open every day or on a countertop that is shaded by a cabinet.

If you notice that your medication has changed in color or viscosity, do not take it. This is a sign of age or damage brought on by extreme temperature change. If you notice a discoloration or strange texture after taking your medication, call your pharmacist or doctor to ask about possible side effects.

If you feel faint, itchy, short of breath, dizzy or nauseous after taking questionable medication, seek immediate medical attention to mitigate an allergic reaction or poisoning.

Medication That Requires Extra Care

Gels, liquids, and pills have specific chemical compounds that make them react to heat differently. Some types of medications are more sensitive to temperature and humidity changes:

  • Hydrocortisone cream cannot tolerate the heat, quickly separating and becoming useless. Store it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
  • Insulin and nitroglycerin can both become life threatening when compromised. Unopen bottles should be kept in the refrigerator, but opened bottles need to be stored at room temperature away from sunlight and humidity that can cause condensation and dilute your prescription.

    Nitroglycerin should remain sealed until it is needed. It begins to lose its potency the moment it is unsealed. Please check with one of our pharmacists about replacing your opened nitroglycerin bottles regularly.

  • Any test strips, such as pregnancy tests or diabetic strips, should be stored away from moisture to avoid false readings.
  • Birth control and other hormone-based medications become ineffective when exposed to heat because the proteins that make up synthetic hormones are temperature sensitive. Store hormonal supplements in a bedside drawer or cabinet in an airtight container.

Always ask your pharmacist about the proper storage method for your specific medications, as not all medications are mentioned or covered in this article.

If you have questions about storing your medications in the summer, contact Smith Caldwell Drug Store at 501-392-5470 to speak with one of our pharmacists.

*Image courtesy of CC 4.0