4 Tips to Shield Medications from Summer Sun

JUNE 29, 2016
Allison Gilchrist, Associate Editor
Fun in the sun could take a turn for the worse if patients aren’t careful about their medications.
 
Although most drug labels include storage temperature recommendations, many patients are unaware of the potential damage that extreme heat can inflict on their medicines. Notably, the US Pharmacopeia defines “controlled room temperature” as 68 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit.
 
If any medications that have been exposed to high temperatures appear physically changed in any way, patients should consult a pharmacist to determine whether a new prescription is needed. Pills that are cracked, chipped, stuck together, or unusually hard or soft shouldn’t be taken, nor should pills that have changed in color, consistency, or odor. 
 
Here are some other tips that pharmacists should share with their patients this summer:
 
1. Know which medications can cause dehydration
Certain medication classes can cause dehydration, which can be especially dangerous during the summer, when patients tend to lose more water from sweat.
 
Some of the drug classes that may cause dehydration include the following:
Antihistamines
Blood pressure medications
Chemotherapy drugs
Laxatives
Any drug that lists diarrhea or vomiting as a potential side effect
 
According to the CDC, effective methods to prevent heat exhaustion and dehydration include drinking plenty of fluids, replacing salt and minerals that may be removed from heavy sweating, wearing light-colored clothing, applying sunscreen, and staying cool indoors with air conditioning.
 
2. Don’t leave medications in the car
When patients leave their cars parked for 30 minutes on a 90-degree day, they normally come back to a car that’s 120 degrees inside, which is well above the recommended storage temperature.
 
Certain medications either increase or decrease in potency when exposed to extreme temperatures, including insulin, thyroid medications, and epinephrine. Lorazepam and diazepam decrease in potency by 75% and 25%, respectively, when exposed to temperatures exceeding 98 degrees. Meanwhile, albuterol inhalers can explode if exposed to temperatures exceeding 120 degrees.
 
If medications must be removed from the home, they should be carried around in a purse.
 
3. Don’t forget about OTC products
Heat and moisture cause aspirin tablets to break down into acetic acid and salicylic acid, which can cause stomach irritation. Other OTC products simply lose their potency when exposed to hot, humid environments. 
 
Even the cotton ball that many OTC drugs are packaged with can be a threat, drawing moisture into the container and compromising the capsules or tablets inside. 
 
4. Know which medications increase sun sensitivity
Sensitivity to sunlight is a side effect of many widely used prescription and OTC drugs. Almost all psychiatric medications increase a patient’s sensitivity to the heat and sun, as well as certain psoriasis (methoxsalen), acne (tretinoin), and arthritis (naproxen, piroxicam) drugs. 
 
Increased sensitivity to the sun may result in severe sunburn, hives, rashes, and increased risk for skin cancer.
 


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