Is It OK to Use Expired Asthma Medicines?

Health Professional

You found your asthma medicine sitting at the bottom of your sock drawer and now you're wondering:  Can I still use it?  Is it safe?  Will it still work?  Is it okay to use expired asthma medicines?

All medicines begin to break down and lose potency over time. For this reason, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandates that all medicines have an expiration date. This date is the estimated date at which time the medicine will lose 10% of its potency.  At this time, the manufacturer no longer guarantees the potency of the medicine.

Now, when will a medicine lose 10% of its potency? Studies show this varies depending on whether or not the product is in its original packaging, and where it has been stored, at what temperature, and what humidity?

The expiration date also assumes you are storing the medicine at the recommended temperature and humidity.  Most medicine should be somewhere between 59 and 86 degrees F (15-30 degrees C) and away from light and moisture.  You'll have to check the package of your medicines to see the exact recommendations.

Most research seems to suggest that most medicines are effective for two to three years after their date of manufacture, so long as they remain in their original packaging. This is important, considering most medicine sit on shelves in warehouses, trucks, and pharmacies for months, even years, before they are eventually sold.

As for most asthma medicines, the expiration date is generally one year from the date of sale. So, as you can see, there isn't much science behind it. It's more like an estimation than anything else.

That said, in 1986 the U.S. Department of Defense, in cooperation with the FDA, created the Federal Sheld Life Extension Program (SLEP). In 2001 it essentially acknowledged that most medicines maintain potency long after their expiration dates.

This program was important because the military wanted to mamke sure stockpiled medicines and vaccines would still be potent, even if the manufacturer set expiration date had passed. The answer was that most are still potent and can still be used.

Now, on to question number two: Are expired asthma medicines safe? The answer here is yes. Most asthma experts will agree that expired asthma medicines are safe even after their expiration dates.

As a lifetime asthmatic I can attest that I have, from time to time, discovered a long-lost albuerol. I have discovered them in couch cushions or under beds. Back before I had a good job with benefits, I would use them because I had to. They did work, although they tasted like rotten mints.

You must also consider that most asthma experts recommend every asthmatic carry an asthma rescue inhaler (albuterol) at all times, or have one readily available for emergencies. Considering most asthmatics should rarely need them, such inhalers can be forgotten about. Then when they are needed they are expired. My point here is, if you need it you need it.

Still, as an asthma expert, I would highly recommend that you note the date on your inhalers, and make sure you replace them every year. This important, especially when we're talking about your breathing here. You'll want to make sure the medicines you are relying on will be potent.

As far as medicines like Advair, Symbicort, Breo, Singulair, etc., these are medicines that you should be using on a daily basis to gain and maintain good control of your asthma. If used properly, they should not be around long enough to become expired.

Still, medicine sometimes gets lost. And, it's also important to note that asthma medicines tend to be very expensive. So this kind of tends to play a role in many of the questions we receive about: can I use expired asthma medicines?

Can you use expired inhalers.  Asthma medicines do gradually lose potency over time, although SLEP indicates they will still be effective for a while after the expiration date. Still, to guarantee your asthma medicines work for you, it's best not to use them too far after this date. After all, your breathing depends on it.