SPRING is sprung
The grass is riz.
I wonder where my Allerest is.
How many times have you gone to your handy medicine cabinet for help, only to find the closest thing to the remedy you need has an expiration date that's two years old?
Surrounding your outdated allergy medicine are three nearly empty bottles of antacid, a couple plastic-wrapped cold capsules saved from a box you pitched long ago, several prescription drug vials with unreadable labels, a dried up tube of first aid cream, an empty adhesive tape dispenser, half a mile of unraveled gauze . . . .
If this scenario sounds too familiar, maybe your spring cleaning list should be expanded to include your medicine cabinet. After all, being prepared makes any medical situation a lot easier to handle.
We asked David Perrott, acting assistant director of pharmacy at Union Memorial Hospital, for some suggestions on getting organized. Here's what he had to say:
* Read the label. Look for expiration dates on all medications and throw out whatever has expired.
Federal regulations require that an expiration date be printed on all prescription and over-the-counter medicines, says Perrott. If the expiration date has been removed or worn off, throw out anything that you suspect is over two years old.
You may be tempted to hold on to a prescription drug that has not expired if it's for a recurring problem. "Just don't start using it again without first reviewing your symptoms with your doctor," says Perrott.
* Check for spoilage. Some medications show obvious signs of deterioration. "Aspirin ordinarily has a slightly vinegary odor," says Perrott. "But when it begins to break down, the odor of vinegar is exaggerated, and the tablet will begin to look grainy or crumbly."
Moisture -- the "No. 1 enemy of aspirin" -- can sabotage other products, too, he says. Capsules subject to too much heat or humidity, for instance, can become soft and sticky and lose their effectiveness.
Liquid products like milk of magnesia tend to dry out quickly, says Perrott. If a bottle is not closed tightly and is left half-empty, over time the liquid -- and its potency -- will evaporate into the empty space in the bottle, he says.
Check for a powdery, white crust around the lid, a sign of evaporation. And consider buying a smaller-sized, albeit less economical, bottle next time if your use is rather infrequent.
Liquid "suspension" products tend to separate after sitting a while. This is normal, says Perrott, but be sure to shake the product before using it so you are getting the full effect of the medicine.
* Dispose of properly. When you do decide what to throw out, don't toss it in a can and forget about it. Kids and pets love to explore wastebaskets. It's safer to flush tablets down the toilet and pour liquids down the toilet or sink. And rinse the container before tossing it.
* Store properly. Despite the name of that mirrored cabinet in your bathroom, "medicine should never be kept in the bathroom," says Perrott. Heat from an overhead light and high moisture can cause medicine to deteriorate too quickly. In addition, he says, "most kids can get to it in the bathroom."
Perrott suggests establishing your medicine cabinet on a shelf high in a hall closet or some other cool, dry, safe location.
Store medicine in its original container so that the complete directions for use, expiration date and any warnings about it are at hand. Don't be tempted to combine different tablets in one container or remove packaged pills from boxes to save space.
* Replenish as needed. Don't overstock your shelf; some medicines lose potency with time. But some products should always be kept on hand, says Perrott, including syrup of ipecac to induce vomiting and a first-aid guide for handling emergencies.