Pigeon health

   storage of medicines

12. 11. 2007.
I use a lot of medicines. How should I store them, so they do not deteriorate?
The manufacturers always describe on the packaging how a medicine should be stored, and it is advisable to observe this. Improper storage can quickly and easily ruin the medicine, which can cause its effectiveness to decline or disappear. (And/or harmful materials form in the product!)
Vaccines aside, the description of most products states “Store in a dry, cool place” or “Store in a dry place at room temperature”. Many also add “Store away from bright light”. It is worth complying with these relatively undemanding requirements, else our weapon in the fight against disease loses its edge even before it is introduced.
There are three factors which most affect the period for which medicines retain their effectiveness:
  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • Light radiation

As a good rule of thumb, with every temperature increase of 10 degrees Celsius (18°F) the period of a particular chemical process is halved, i.e. the process becomes twice as fast. (This is also true in reverse, of course: a reduction in temperature slows the process in the same measure.) For example, everyone will have seen at first hand how medicines dissolve more easily in warm than in cold water. But they also disintegrate more quickly in the warm than in colder conditions, and so it is important that we observe the prescribed temperature range.
For the majority of medicines, and particularly vaccines, overly cold temperatures (freezing) are also highly detrimental. (Most vaccines should be kept at a temperature of 2-8°C (36-46°F).) We should always follow the instructions on the packaging.
Freezing ruins most medicines dissolved in a liquid. This is often visible to the naked eye, as after thawing the liquid becomes cloudy and breaks up, i.e. the individual ingredients precipitate in it. But even if a medicine suffers no observable damage in the cold, it may lose its effectiveness, and so we should not leave it in an unheated room in winter for any period of time.

In this instance, humidity means the dampness of the air surrounding the medicine. In general, the original packaging is not permeable, but of course it becomes so once opened, and in overly damp conditions the medicine “soaks it up”, usually causing its disintegration and loss of effectiveness. Some products are so sensitive to damp that they are capable of extracting water from the air even under normal dry conditions. A good example of this is clavulanic acid. The manufacturer includes absorbent material in the medicine’s packaging, to protect it from the humidity in the air. After administering the daily dose, we should take care to seal the remaining medicine properly, in an airtight fashion, with the absorbent sachet alongside it, else it will lose its effectiveness by the following day.
If we use powdered medicine supplied in a packet, we can best protect the remaining material after measuring out the daily dose by folding back the opening, fastening it with a rubber band, putting it in a sealable jar, then placing it in a cool, dry place. The refrigerator does not count as a dry place, and so we should only keep opened medicines there if in airtight containers.
* On the subject of refrigerators, attention should be drawn to the fact that medicines should only be stored such that it should not be easy for unauthorized persons to get at them (even by accident). Here I am thinking of an unsuspecting member of the family mistaking a medicine stored in the fridge or the larder, perhaps no longer in its original packaging, for food, e.g. for flour, and using it accordingly. Therefore we should store medicines such that there is no chance of others, PARTICULARLY CHILDREN, getting at them. The ideal is to designate a separate cupboard for medicines, that we fix high up on the wall in a cool, dry room, and protect with a lock. In the absence of a separate refrigerator we must use the family one for the storage of medicines sensitive to heat, and in this case it is advisable to put them in a sealed little box that children are not able to open. *

Light radiation
The majority of active ingredients disintegrate when they come into contact with certain types of radiation. As light is a form of – electromagnetic – radiation, most medicines cannot withstand it, particularly direct sunlight. As strong artificial light can also be detrimental, it is best to store medicines in systematized boxes that are well-sealed and whose sides do not let light in.
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