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Prescription sitting in a hot car all day? It might not be as effective.

Photo of prescription bottles lining shelves at a pharmacy
Gabriel Perez
/
KUT
Prescription medications are often sensitive to changes in temperature.

As Austin’s run of triple-digit temperatures continues, prescription medications may be vulnerable if they aren’t stored correctly.

Ashley Garling, a clinical assistant professor at UT Austin’s College of Pharmacy, said she finds that most people are aware of the general guidance to store medication at “room temperature,” but they don’t realize how narrow a range that really is. For most drugs, the ideal range is 68-77 degrees Fahrenheit.

“I sleep at 68, but during the day, my thermostat likes to bump up to 85, and then bam, I'm already over 77 degrees,” Garling said. “It actually gets exceeded pretty quickly and easily.”

She said hormone- and protein-based medications, like birth control pills and insulin, tend to be especially sensitive to temperature and will begin to degrade if they get too hot. A common mistake that leads to the issue, Garling said, is keeping medication in the car.

“Let's say you left your birth control pack in your car every day, and on your way to school, you had your daily tablets,” she said. “More than likely, you're not going to have the same amount of estrogen or progesterone in the tablet that you normally would.”

In this situation, Garling said, you would likely begin to experience hormonal changes and side effects, and the pills’ contraceptive qualities would diminish, possibly leading to pregnancy.

Folks who have medication shipped to their homes should also be careful, Garling said. While mail-order medication is packaged “according to best practices,” it may be sensitive to high temperatures in transit or the mailbox.

“It is never recommended to leave prescription medications outside or in the mailbox for long periods of time,” she said.

Whether you pick up your medication from the pharmacy or have it delivered, it should be stored in a cool, dry place away from sunlight. However, unless a pharmacist advises it for a specific prescription, Garling said it’s not a good idea to store drugs in the refrigerator, because too-cool temperatures can have an adverse effect as well.

If you suspect a medication might have degraded, there are signs to look out for.

“If it changes its physical property — the smell, the texture or anything like that — then that usually means that it's compromised, and that it may not work as well, so you want to try to get a replacement,” Garling said.

She said many insurance plans will allow for a limited number of replacements for lost, stolen or damaged medications. Regardless, she recommends consulting a pharmacist or your doctor if you need a replacement.

“Typically, doctors are really good about giving you refills when you know an emergency or an accident happens," she said. "Same thing with pharmacists."

Olivia Aldridge is KUT's health care reporter. Got a tip? Email her at oaldridge@kut.org. Follow her on X @ojaldridge.
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