From inhalers to injectables and tablets to liquids, prescription and over-the-counter medications come in various forms. However, when it comes to how they are stored, they all have one thing in common; medicine shouldn't be left in extreme heat.
When medications are exposed to high heat, such as when they are left in a hot car, they tend to lose their efficacy and can even cause potentially serious reactions due to their contents being altered. We put together this guide to help you know the proper way to store your medications to keep them safe.
How Long Does It Take a Parked Car to Heat Up?
Several factors are involved that affect how hot a parked car can get and how quickly it reaches temperatures that can potentially taint prescription drugs. The outside temperature, the type of car you have, and the car’s location are just a few elements that play a role in how fast your parked car can heat up.
According to the National Weather Service, temperatures inside a vehicle can reach up to 100 degrees in just 25 minutes when the outside temperature is 73 degrees.
Further research shows that the temperature inside a car parked directly in the sun, when the outside temperature was 95 degrees or above, hit an average of 116 degrees. Some vehicles even hit 138 degrees. Cars parked in the shade still reached temps around 100 degrees.
Leaving Medications in the Car on Cooler Days
As stated above, even when the weather outside is cooler, your car can get hot inside over some time. As fast as your car can heat up, objects inside it will heat up faster.
Why? The sun's shortwave rays of radiation heat objects that it strikes. These heated objects then give off rays of longwave radiation, which heat the air around them. Therefore, even if your medication itself isn't sitting directly in sunlight, it can still heat up when exposed to the other longwave radiation rays of heat.
What Temperatures Should Medication Be Stored At?
Depending on where you are located, the time of year, and other factors, your car can increase from a cool 77 degrees to higher temps like 104 degrees fast. It's important to know when your medications are in potential danger, so check your medicine's instructions regarding temperatures for safe storage.
Typically, most prescriptions and over-the-counter medications should be stored between 59 to 77 degrees °F in a cool, dry place. That degree range is critical.
What Happens to Medications When They Are Exposed to High Heat?
When exposed to high temperatures, chemicals and components of some drugs can become altered. Medicines that contain hormones (birth control, chemotherapy drugs, etc.), for example, become less effective when exposed to temperatures outside their recommended storage range.
Excessive heat can significantly impact how well a medication can do its job. For instance, when blood glucose strips are exposed to humidity, like a car on a summer day, they can create incorrect readings. This can obviously become a hazardous situation when a patient is relying on a correct glucose reading to regulate their glucose levels. Liquid gel caps can melt, while tablets and other medicine can lose their balance. Excessive heat can even significantly increase the potency of the product or render it useless.
When a medication is no longer effective or loses efficacy, it can pose a severe threat in no longer being able to treat certain serious health conditions. The altered contents of the medication can itself also cause potentially, severe life-threatening reactions.
What to Do with Medication That Has Sat in a Hot Car
If you do happen to leave your medicine in the car, you should immediately throw it out if the:
Medication has changed color, texture, or smell
Pills are stuck together, are harder or softer than usual, or are cracked or chipped
When your medication has been exposed to high temperatures in the hot car, it may still look normal. However, there can be more changes to the drug’s contents beyond what can be detected at first glance. Therefore, it’s better to steer on the side of caution and dispose of it.
Often your insurance company can replace your medications if you had to throw them away. They may charge a little bit of money for the replacement, but it is of course, better to be safe than sorry.
When traveling with your medications inside your car, be careful to keep your medicines safely inside the climate-controlled portion of the car's interior (not the trunk). If it is hot outside, keeping your car air-conditioned to maintain a cooler temperature is your best be to maintain safe temperature conditions.
Finally, always remember to take your medication with you after you park your car if you're parking your car overnight or for an extended period. At CareCard, it is our mission to help make your prescription payments more affordable, saving members up to 85% on prescription drugs and medications. Learn how CareCard can help make your medication payments more manageable.