First aid expiration dates?

Hello everyone! I just cleaned out and reorganized my first aid/over the counter medications. I did a search in the Forum, and don’t think this question has been covered, but please let me know if it has already been talked about.

I feel comfortable with the shelf life (expired) over the counter medications in pill form that I have, but I am unsure if I need to worry about the dates on the lotions and creams and similar stuff. I was going to do some research, but I am thinking someone here might already know or have a reliable source for this topic. FYI, I’m talking mainly about the stuff like antifungals, antibiotic ointments, allergy/antiinflammatory creams, other lotions/creams/gels that are on The Prepared’s Home Medical Supplies List. (I replace alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and Pedialyte, but those are about the only things I have been rotating in my whole medical cupboard and I’m wondering if I need to replace anything else.). Thanks in advance for any advice on this topic.


  • Comments (5)

    • 2

      I try to replace those before their expiration dates but have no idea how fast their efficacy actually drops off.

    • 3

      After extensive research over the past 10+ years, I personally feel safe letting my beloved family members take many UNOPENED OTC (over-the-counter) medications and prescription medicines 5-15 years after the FDA’s artificially imposed “best by” or “use by” or “expired by” dates.  Research by a government program on 40 year old prescription meds show there is generally only a small loss of potency over time, but very little risk of harm that can occur from taking “expired” medications.  There are some very important exceptions to this:

      Albuterol or albuterol products – do NOT use past expired-by dates.  The efficacy drops off sharply and you might as well be using water for example.  

      EPIpens – do NOT use past expired-by dates.   Again, the efficacy drops off sharply.

      Insulin used to control blood sugar in diabetes may be susceptible to degradation after its expiration date.
      Oral nitroglycerin (NTG), a medication used for angina (chest pain), may lose its potency quickly once the medication bottle is opened.
      Vaccines, biologicals or blood products could also be subject to quick degradation once the expiration date is reached.

      Pills or tablets are generally ok for longer shelf life than liquid products “in solution”.

      Best rules for storage:  1)  Write the date you purchased it on the medication.   2)  Store away from sunlight, moisture, hot temperatures.  (for example, in a closet in an air conditioned home.  NOT in a bathroom where it gets steamy, NOT in a garage/attic etc. that is exposed to heat over 75-80 degrees F.  NOT in a automatic, self-defrosting refrigerator/freezer.    3)  Generally colder temps are not a problem, as long as there is no associated moist conditions.

      SLEP (shelf life extension program) is a government run study to determine which drugs can safely be extended when stored for emergency government use.  

      Links to abstracts on this topic

      • 2

        Drug Expiration Dates – Are Expired Drugs Still Safe to Take?

        Tried to add in an edit in original response, but system wouldn’t let me edit.

      • 1

        Thanks for your reply! Could you clarify a bit? Were items like Benadryl, Neosporin, hydrocortisone, lidocaine, etc etc etc tested in SLEP? Or is it more that you think that since the prescription medications are generally still good for a while after the expiration dates, I can probably assume this first aid stuff is also safe/effective after expiration as well? I appreciate the help. 

      • 2

        You are correct that “since prescription medications are generally still good … after expiration dates, (you) can probably assume first aid stuff is also safe/effective after expiration as well”.

        The reason that manufacturers say 2 years is because once the meds leave their control, the meds could be mis-treated any number of ways.    Here is another article by NPR from 2017:

        That Drug Expiration Date May Be More Myth Than Fact