Allercy and Asthma Health
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The Official Publication of AAN - MA

Extend Spring Cleaning to Your Medicine Cabinet

phto of perscription medicine

By Karen Gregory, DNP, RRT, AE-C

Springtime is the opportune time to dust out the cobwebs, organize drawers, clean closets — and clean out your medicine cabinet. Often times, unsafe medications hang around in the medication cabinet and can possibly cause serious injuries. People may not take all of their medications as prescribed due to side effects or dosage changes, because they forget, or because their health care provider has discontinued the medication. Over-the-counter medications may sit around in the medication cabinet for years. Medications may be left in the cabinet because people think they may need them later or because the medicine is expensive and they hate to throw it away.

Asthma inhalers may be lying around your home too, in a book bag, briefcase, or purse, for quite some time. Most people have two or three rescue inhalers in various places in the event of an asthma attack. It is important that you know when the inhaler is empty and the expiration dates of all your inhalers.

Remember to check the expiration date for eye drops, such as those allergy eye drops for itchy, watery eyes, as well. Eye drops tend to harbor bacteria, and after they are expired generally lose potency and become toxic. Also, you should discard old antibiotics. You should never take leftover antibiotics from a previous illness.

Expiration dates must be checked on all medications and inhalers. Check the counter on the inhaler to make sure it is not empty. Medications that are expired or no longer prescribed should be discarded. You should never give your old medications to another person. You should never take medications that have been prescribed to another person. Taking medications that are not ordered by your health care provider can be very harmful!

Disposing of medications safely is extremely important. Unless the enclosed medication instructions approve, do not dispose of medicines in the sink or toilet. Ask your pharmacy if there is a drug take-back program in your area that allows consumers to take unused drugs to a location for proper disposal. Consumer education materials are available with safety recommendations for disposing of old or expired medications. The FDA and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy have developed federal guidelines on medication disposal.

When discarding medications, make sure to scratch out identifying information on the prescription label. Remove the medicine from its original container and mix it with used coffee grounds or kitty litter. This will hopefully prevent children or pets from coming in contact with the medicine. Place the mixture in a sealable bag to prevent the medication from leaking.

Friendly reminders:

  1. Keep your asthma and allergy medications and all other medications current.
  2. Use this “spring cleaning” exercise to make a list of your current medications.
  3. Be sure to note on the list when the medications expire. Take this list with you whenever you visit your health care provider.
Karen Gregory, a member of the American Association for Respiratory Care, serves as an advanced practice nurse, respiratory therapist, and certified asthma educator at the Oklahoma Allergy & Asthma Clinic in Oklahoma City and is also an assistant professor at Georgetown University, School of Nursing and Health Studies.

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