Most medicine cabinets contain a variety of prescription and nonprescription medication. Some drugs, like allergy medicine, are used intermittently or for long periods of time. Other drugs, like antibiotics, are generally used short-term for an infection. If a doctor prescribes medicine for intermittent use, you’re supposed to keep the pills or liquid on hand for whenever you need it. If a doctor prescribes a drug for acute use, such as a strep throat, you’re supposed to throw away any remaining medicine so you’re not tempted to use it in the future without the doctor’s advice.
All drugs have expiration dates. With nonprescription drugs, the expiration date is printed somewhere on the bottle or tube. With prescription drugs, the expiration date is printed on the instruction label that tells you how to take the medicine.
If the medicine has a short lifespan, the pharmacist will put the appropriate expiration date on the bottle. This is common with antibiotic suspensions that are used with children for ear or sinus infections. However, even if the medicine has a long shelf life, like most pills, the pharmacist is required by law to indicate that the prescription expires one year after it was filled. The reason for this is to reduce the risk that a patient will use the drug inappropriately.
In some cases, it’s okay to use the true expiration date instead of the one listed by the pharmacist. The best example of this situation involves medicine that comes in a tube. In addition to the one-year expiration date provided by the pharmacist, all tubes have the “real” expiration date stamped on the crimp, which is the folded metal part at the bottom of the tube. That being said, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor before using a prescription medicine.