Checking whether medicine is still in-date and safe for use is vitally important. How can you tell if the medicine you have been given is still fit and safe for use? How do you also safely dispose of unused or out-of-date medicine? Here’s what you need to know:
Why do medicines have expiry dates?
Medicines have expiry dates so you know when to use them by. After the expiry date medicines may not be safe or as effective.
You should not take medicines after their expiry date. If you’ve had a medicine for a while, check the expiry date before using it.
You should also make sure that you’ve stored the medicine properly, as described on the packaging or leaflet.
If your medicine looks, tastes or smells different to when you first got it, even if it’s within the expiry date, take it to your pharmacist for advice.
What does the expiry date mean?
The expiry date usually means that you should not take the medicine after the end of the month given.
For example, if the expiry date is July 2020, you should not take the medicine after 31 July 2020.
What does the use by date mean?
If your medicine has a use by or use before date instead of an expiry date, this usually means that you should not take the medicine after the end of the previous month.
For example, if the use by date is July 2020, you should not take the medicine after 30 June 2020.
If a doctor or pharmacist has given you any other instructions about using or disposing of your medicine, you should also follow these.
For example, your pharmacist may label a medicine: “discard 7 days after opening”.
You should take any medicine that’s left after this time back to your pharmacist to dispose of, even if it’s within the manufacturer’s expiry date.
Short expiry dates
Some medicines are given a short expiry date, such as:
✚ prepared antibiotic mixtures: when the pharmacist adds water to powdered antibiotic, it changes the stability of the product, and the pharmacist will give it an expiry date of 1 or 2 weeks, depending on the product
✚ eyedrops: these are usually given an expiry date of 4 weeks after first opening the container, because your eyes are particularly sensitive to any bacteria that might get into the eyedrops
How can I dispose of expired medicine?
If you have medicines that have passed their expiry date, take them to your pharmacist, who can dispose of them safely for you.
You should never throw unused or expired medicines in the rubbish bin or flush them down the toilet.
(Information taken from the NHS England website. Last reviewed: January 2020)