The Top 3 Medication Mishaps to Avoid this Summer

Julie Weber Trending Topics

QUICK FACTS

What to do when someone is suffering from the heat:

    • Move to a cool place
    • Loosen clothing
    • Place cool, wet cloths on the body or take a cool bath
    • Sip on water

Seek medical attention if there is vomiting, the symptoms are getting worse or if the symptoms last for more than one hour.

The best part of summertime is fun in the sun, but did you know that some commonly used medications make people more sensitive to the sun and the heat? There are also storage concerns for certain medicine. Here’s how to avoid our Top 3 potential dangers and medication errors during the hot summer days.   

1. SENSITIVITY TO SUN LIGHT

Increased sensitivity to sunlight, called photosensitivity, is a common side effect for many medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.  Individuals taking these medications can experience rapid and severe sunburn, hives and rashes, and are put at increased risk for developing skin cancer. 

To avoid a photosensitivity reaction, apply sun screen regularly, wear solar protective clothing and sunglasses when outside, and limit the amount of sun exposure, especially during the midday hours.

Examples of medications that can cause photosensitivity include:

  • Some antibiotics such as doxycycline and ciprofloxacin
  • Diuretics such as furosemide
  • A heart medication called amiodarone
  • Supplements such as St. John’s Wort
  • Acne medicine called isotretinoin
  • Over-the-counter meds such as ibuprofen and naproxen

2. SENSITIVITY TO HEAT 

Some medications have side effects that interfere with the activity of the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates body temperature and thirst.  People who have lost their thirst signal and are exposed to heat for prolonged periods of time can suffer heat intolerance and risk becoming dehydrated.

Initial symptoms of heat intolerance are headache, nausea and vomiting, heavy sweating, elevated heart rate, and weakness.  Symptoms may progress if there is no relief from the heat, leading to high fever, trouble breathing, dehydration with lack of sweating, confusion, fainting and collapse.  If someone is experiencing these symptoms, it is considered a medical emergency – call 911.

Prevention is the best approach to avoid heat exhaustion.  Before taking any medication, be sure to read the Drug Facts Label and any drug insert packets available.  Ask your pharmacist questions related to situations that would increase the likelihood of a medication reaction, such as heat intolerance. 

If you have a job that requires strenuous outdoor activity, ask your health care provider about the possibility to adjust the dosage or timing of medication to minimize interference with work responsibilities.  And of course, stay hydrated, drink more water than you normally would, and do not wait until you get thirsty to drink.

Some medications that can alter the body’s response to heat include antihistamines (like Benadryl®), medications used for depression or anxiety, some heart or blood pressure medications, and certain stimulant medications such as those used for ADHD.

3. MEDICATION STORAGE IN THE HEAT

You can find medication storage information in the drugs fact panel. Image courtesy of Scholastic

Extreme heat or changes in temperature can break down medications, making them less effective. Refer to the Drug Facts Label of any medication for proper storage temperature recommendations.  Controlled room temperatures of 68-77 degrees are typically the best to prevent most medications from breaking down, although some medications do require refrigeration. 

Follow these safety tips for medication storage:

  • When medications are taken outside of the home in a purse or backpack, do not store them in a car where they may be exposed to excessive heat. The temperature inside rises quickly to greater than 120 degrees on a hot day. 
  • Make sure the pharmacy is the last stop when running errands.
  • Ask for temperature controlled packaging for mail-ordered prescriptions if needed.
  • When traveling, pack medications in your carry-on bag because the cargo compartments of planes can become very hot. 
  • Humidity can cause moisture to collect inside the pill container.  Most medications come with a silica gel packet to absorb moisture, so be sure to leave the packet in place.

Medications that are heat sensitive include: insulin, thyroid medications, epinephrine (EpiPen®), inhalers, topical creams, antibiotics, biologic medications (certain medications for cancer or autoimmune diseases).

For any questions or concerns about medications and heat, call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222. Specially trained nurses and pharmacists are available 24/7/365 to answer your questions. The service is free and confidential.

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