So it's something most of us neglect to do during our spring cleaning, but it's more important than cleaning out your pantry or digging through your crawlspace.
The American Medical Association recommends that everyone cleans out their medicine cabinet once per year, but how do you decide what stays and what goes?
A 1980s study conducted by the Food and Drug Administration revealed that many pills remain effective years after their posted expiry date. But how can you be sure that the ones in your medicine cabinet are?
Here are some guidelines to help you make decisions about what you're storing in your bathroom.
1. Should I save it, or toss it?
"In general, I would say many oral medications are safe to take a year or two beyond their marked expiration date," says Sara Bingel, PharmD, clinical pharmacist at New York City's Mount Sinai Hospital.
It's safe to save pain relieving drugs, such as Tylenol, Advil and Aspirin, allergy medication, stomach pills like Tums and Zantac, as well as cold and flu pills past their posted expiry dates.
You will want to toss any antibotics, nitroglycerine (for chest pain), life-saving medication, anything that is suspended in liquid and children's medication once it has reached its expiry date.
2. Why are expiry dates important?
Expiry dates are more about the potency level of the drug. Over time drugs can change their potency level to either be strong, or weaker. Once it changes it's potency level from the correct dosage, it is deemed as expired.
"How important is it that you need to get the right amount into your body?" says Michael J. Negrete, PharmD, CEO of the Pharmacy Foundation of California. "I might be willing to roll the dice with cough syrup. It's no big deal if the potency is down and it doesn't help my cough. But imagine an EpiPen, which keeps people from going into anaphylactic shock, not working."
Exact changes is potency is not available because drug companies don't want to spend the money to test for that.
"Let's say it takes a year for a drug's potency to decrease to 95%," says Paul Langevin, MD, director of cardiac anesthesiology at Waterbury Hospital in Waterbury, Connecticut. "I can't tell you six months later if it's at 93% potency or at 33%. That data's not available."
At the end of the day, if you're uncomfortable with guessing, go with the marked date on the box.
3. Where are you storing them?
Where do you keep your boxes of allergy medication? It's important to take note of where you're storing your medication when deciding what to keep and what to toss. If you keep it in a cool, dark drawer it could last for years after its expiry date. In comparison, if your medicine cabinet is located in a humid bathroom it is more likely to degrade and not last as long.
4. Liquid medication needs to be treated differently
You want to pay close attention to any liquid medication in your medicine cabinet. Gel capsules, liquids and any medication that is 'suspended' in a liquid is at risk of being contaminated with bacteria. Once those hit their expiry date, it's time to toss them.