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6 Things in Your Medicine Cabinet That You Should Throw Away

November 03, 2023

Many of us have a medicine cabinet, full of remedies for headaches, colds, stomach aches and more. But when's the last time you cleaned your medicine cabinet out? Holding onto the wrong things can be ineffective, and even dangerous, says Patricia Lampugnale, DO, a primary care provider with Hartford HealthCare Medical Group in Stamford. Here are six things you should consider purging to make sure only things that help – and not hurt – remain. [insert-cta-small id=48044]

1. Old antibiotics

First and foremost, be sure to finish prescribed antibiotics to ensure your infection is resolved. But if you have leftovers for some reason, it's not wise to take them without a doctor weighing in. “Your provider should assess your current situation to see if antibiotics are needed. The last one prescribed won’t necessarily be indicated for the current infection, which may be viral," says Dr. Lampugnale.

2. Pain medication

While some meds are prescribed to take as needed for recurring strains or pain, narcotics like opioids are not, Dr. Lampugnale says. Those are designed for acute pain management and not given in large supply. “I don’t recommend keeping anything you don’t use to take later. If it hurts that badly, the best advice is to get medical attention,” she says. Plus, having opioids around could pose potential overdose or addiction problems for anyone in the household. > Related: Older Adults, Check Your Pills: The Hidden Risks of Too Many Medications

3. Expired medications

Most meds past their “use by” dates aren’t as effective against pain, congestion or other symptoms, Dr. Lampugnale says. Some may even be toxic as they break down. Here are a few medications that should never be used after expiration:
  • Tetracycline
  • Epi pens
  • Nitroglycerin
  • Insulin
“Expiration is like a safety valve on some over-the-counter medications. It might be okay for a month or two but this is controversial,” she says. Keep in mind, too, that improperly storing medication can cause potency changes so choose a cool, dark place. Want more health news? Text StartHere to 85209 to sign up for text alerts

4. Nasal spray

If you've ever had acute nasal congestion, you may have leftover nasal spray. But long-term use isn't always a good idea. The spray works by drying out nasal mucosa, but can cause rebound congestion, forcing you to spray constantly. The recommended dose is one or two days for acute congestion. Otherwise, saline or a warm, steamy shower can clear congestion, Dr. Lampugnale says.

5. Wipes

Although most wipes are made for sensitive skin, some contain fragrances and preservatives that are harsh for some skin types, Dr. Lampugnale explains. Check labels for the preservative methlisothiazolionone (MI) or other alcohols. If you've had skin issues due to wipes, she suggests using a clean wash cloth and warm water.

What do I do with unused meds?

Many pharmacies, police and fire departments have take-back medication centers. Black out your personal information on the prescription labels and bring them in. Often, local newspapers will promote take-back dates. “It’s important to discard unused medications appropriately and not flush them down the toilet where they can infiltrate the drinking water,” Dr. Lampugnale says.