An albuterol sulfate (Proventil, Ventolin) inhaler provides relief from asthma attacks and asthma symptoms. Most people do not use reliever inhalers every day, so they may be forgotten about and allowed to expire.
However, it is important to note that not all medications are safe or effective after their expiration dates.
Read on to find out more about expired medications and learn how to store and dispose of albuterol sulfate inhalers safely.
Expiry dates on inhalers
An inhaler may not be effective once it has passed the expiry date.
Most inhalers are safe to use for 12 months after the expiry date. However, their effectiveness is not guaranteed once the expiration date has passed.
The expiry date can be found on the packaging and the canister.
Proper storage is essential for ensuring the inhaler is effective. People should store the inhaler away from direct sunlight, high temperatures, and changes in humidity.
Expired asthma medications should only be used in an urgent situation when there are no other options available. If a person uses an expired inhaler in an emergency, they should try to use a new inhaler as soon as possible and seek medical treatment.
People who use preventer inhalers regularly will likely finish the inhaler before the expiry date. Because people use reliever inhalers less often, it is probably these types of inhaler that will remain in use beyond their expiration date.
The main risk associated with using an expired inhaler is that it may not control asthma symptoms as effectively as a new inhaler.
When someone uses an expired inhaler in response to an asthma attack, they may find it does not work as well as it should. This is because the active ingredients in medications break down over time.
Aside from reduced effectiveness, expired asthma medications are usually safe to use and are unlikely to pose additional health risks.
Expiry dates on medicines
Every medication has an expiry date.
All medications eventually break down and stop being effective. Since 1979, drug manufacturers have been required by law to put an expiration date on medications. After this time, the potency of the drug is no longer guaranteed.
It is also important to store the medication correctly, as improper storage may result in the active ingredient degrading before the expiration date stamped on the packet.
Properly storing medication means:
- Keeping the product is in its original packaging.
- Storing it according to the recommended temperature, which is usually between 59°F and 86°F (15°C and 30°C).
- Keeping it away from light and moisture.
However, it is important to check the precise storage recommendations on each medication label.
Research on medication potency
To discover a drug's expiration date, researchers expose medicines to heat, light, and humidity to observe how it changes over time. They also look at how the body interacts with medications following this type of exposure testing.
Although a drug's effectiveness does decrease over time, research carried out by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) suggests that most medications retain much of their potency for at least a few years after their expiry date.
The research found that 90 percent of over 100 different drugs retained most of their potency even up to 15 years after the date of expiration.
Another study carried out on old prescription medications (between 28 and 40 years out of date) reported that 12 of the 14 drugs tested retained at least 90 percent potency.
And, according to the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP), most medicines stored according to the recommendations keep at least 70 to 80 percent of their potency for several years post-expiry date, even after being opened.
There are some exceptions, however. The following drugs are said to be unsafe to use after their expiry date:
A pharmacist or doctor can provide advice on storing medicines safely.
To prolong the life of albuterol sulfate inhalers and other medications, people can do the following:
Keep medications in a cool, dry place
People should store medications between 59°F and 86°F (15°C and 30°C).
Leaving medicines in a cold or warm car, or in another place that experiences extreme temperatures, can potentially impact their effectiveness.
If this happens, consult a doctor or pharmacist who may recommend replacing the product.
Avoid damage to the canister
Inhalers rely on a well-functioning canister. If punctured, the pressurized canister may burst, and the device will no longer work. For added protection, keep the inhaler in a box or padded bag.
Replace the cap after use
The cap helps to protect the canister and pressure level, so people should always replace the cap after use.
There are no standard guidelines for disposal of asthma inhalers, and many drug take-back programs will not accept them.
Guidelines also recommend that people do not throw the devices out. This is because:
- The pressurized canister will explode if compacted or incinerated.
- There may be some amount of medicine left in the canister, which can contaminate a water supply.
The manufacturer's instructions on the packaging may recommend a particular method of disposal. If not, a person can contact their pharmacy for disposal instructions.
Most asthma inhalers expire 1 year after being issued. The evidence suggests that expired inhalers retain most of their potency for at least a year after the expiration date. However, this depends on several factors, including proper storage conditions.
It is best practice to store the inhaler properly and replace it once it reaches the expiration date. This reduces the risk of uncontrolled asthma symptoms and any complications.
People can dispose of expired inhalers by returning them to a pharmacy if appropriate or following the manufacturer's disposal guidelines.