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Hot Weather Concerns and Prescription Medication

by Jason Poquette, BPharm, R.Ph

Gertrude Jekyll, the British artist and horticulturist, once wrote “What is one to say about June, the time of perfect young summer, the fulfillment of the promise of the earlier months, and with as yet no sign to remind one that its fresh young beauty will ever fade.”  We’re in June, the birthplace of summer, but for all its beauty it can still be something of a beast with respect to certain prescription medications.  Allow me, therefore, just a moment of this precious season to remind you about some summertime medication concerns.

STORAGE

The first thing to remember is that most medicines should be stored at “room temperature” meaning anywhere from 59 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit (15 to 30 degrees Celsius).  Outside this window, medications can become ineffective and expire more quickly.  This is relatively easy to accomplish in the winter, but depending on your access to air conditioning and choice of storage, that might easily be exceeded in summer.  Also, since summertime may mean traveling and vacation, we might be tempted to store medication in the trunk or leave it in the glove box.  Remember - a car sitting in the sun on a day in the high 80’s to low 90’s can reach temperatures of over 100 degrees inside with the windows closed! 

Medications that require refrigeration, like insulin, some antibiotics, eye drops and inhalers are especially sensitive to heat and need to be properly stored.  Always check your specific medication for correct storage temperatures, or ask your pharmacist or physician.  In addition to heat, most medications need to be stored away from direct sunlight and away from excessive moisture.  In other words, the traditional bathroom “medicine cabinet” is not really the idea place (due to shower moisture and temperature fluctuations) to keep our prescriptions.  A kitchen or bedroom cabinet, out of the reach of children, is probably a better choice.

PHOTOSENSITIVITY

Secondly, sunburn is another summertime medication concern.  Some prescription medications can cause a special type of sensitivity to the sun which will cause a reaction similar to sunburn which can be very painful.  This reaction is possible even if you are more likely to tan than burn. 

Which medications are most likely to cause this reaction?  The list is actually quite long.  Some of the more common culprits include drugs like hydrochlorothiazide (a diuretic), tetracycline and ciprofloxacin (antibiotics), isotretinoin (for acne), ibuprofen (a pain reliever) and glyburide (for diabetes).  There are many more as well, so be sure to see if your medication is one of them!

Protecting your skin from unnecessary sun exposure is always a good idea, but especially so if you are on any of these medications.  Patients should limit their sun exposure during peak hours (10am-2pm), wear clothing that covers your skin and when sun exposure is unavoidable be sure to put on a good sunblock. 

DEHYDRATION AND HEAT STRESS

Finally, some prescription medications decrease our ability to regulate our body temperature.  This occurs through a variety of mechanisms, but certain diuretics like furosemide or hydrochlorothiazide, antidepressants like fluoxetine, beta blockers and stimulants may put you at greater risk for heat-related conditions.  All patients, especially the elderly, should remember to stay well hydrated by drinking enough water and avoiding excessive amounts of caffeine when exposed to the summer sun for any length of time.

Yes, “perfect, young summer” is here.  And hopefully these reminders will help keep you and your medications in good health as we enjoy the long-awaited warmth before us.

Jason Poquette, BPharm, R.Ph. is a practicing pharmacist who lives in Whitinsville. His columns comment on drugs and pharmaceuticals issues in the news. He maintains the blog www.TheHonestApothecary.com.