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Oops! That Medicine is Expired

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If you give your kid expired medicine, what's the damage? Dr. Cara Natterson breaks it down.

woman giving girl medicine

Momlogic's Julie: I gave my daughter Children's Tylenol last night and discovered it had expired in February 2009. How bad is this? We asked pediatrician Dr. Cara Natterson for guidance.

"Pediatricians are accustomed to the call from panicked parents who just gave their child an expired medicine," says Dr. Cara. "Do they need to worry? In general, expired medicines aren't dangerous. Giving too much of a medicine can be dangerous or combining two medicines that shouldn't be mixed can be dangerous, but giving an old medicine is almost never a serious concern."

The real question is: what next? "If you give your child expired Tylenol, should you assume that it's not going to work and should you give another dose of 'fresh'?," she asks. "Just because it is expired should we assume that it doesn't work at all? Here's where the American Association of Poison Control Centers comes in so handy. If you don't have their phone number plastered on your fridge or committed to memory, you should (1-800-222-1222). The folks on the other end of this line answer a whole host of questions about anything that can be construed as a poison. From prescription drugs to hand sanitizers, they can help reassure you...or direct you to the nearest Emergency Room. They can tell you whether that expired medicine has any kick left, because it depends quite a bit on what the medicine is and how long ago it expired."

"And once you do discover that expired medicine -- or the stash stored in the far reaches under your sink -- resist the temptation to flush it down the toilet or rinse it down the drain," she says. "When you do, these medicines -- expired or not -- find their way into our lakes, rivers and streams (and some back into our water supply). Local pharmacies often accept old drugs or at the very least can direct you where to take them. City and state health departments also organize hazardous waste collections, so check you local website."

In the meantime, if you are still wondering whether you should give another dose of (newer) Tylenol, Dr. Cara says patience can be the best medicine of all. "If you wait 30-40 minutes and your child's fever subsides or his fussiness calms, that old expired medicine obviously still had some bang to its buck," she concludes.



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2 comments so far | Post a comment now
Robin December 14, 2009, 6:54 AM

In my experience the people at poison control are very nice and helpful and with the way my son gets into things I should have them on speed dial. The first experience I had with them was when my now 4 1/2yo son was 9mo. My husband was watching him and practicing his card tricks (he’s a magician). He gave our son a card to hold because he liked them. He liked them so much he made the card disappear all by himself! Poison Control could have blown us off (it was just a playing card after all) but they went through and researched what the cards are made of just to be extra sure he’d be OK and calmed down my spastic new-mom self.

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