Headache + Flu + Fever + Expired Tylenol =?
February 15, 2007 11:10 AM   Subscribe

I'm at home, sick with the flu. I have a headache, sore throat and a low grade fever. I've gone through all of my current tylenol. I still have a bottle with an expiration date of June '05. Its freezing and I don't want to go outside for some more. Can I take the old stuff? Will it work?
posted by Ironmouth to Health & Fitness (20 answers total)
Only one way to find out!

But more seriously, I was in the hospital for a fever once and the doctor packed me full of tylenol. I asked if I'd OD or something and he told me that there was a maximum absorption of some kind, so I shouldnt worry.

I'm not a doctor, and I don't know how the chemical composition degrades over time(or if the decompositions are dangerous), but I don't think you'd have to worry about ODing if you need to take more to make up for any that has degraded.
posted by koudelka at 11:18 AM on February 15, 2007

I think its mostly a case of the manufacturer won't guarantee the medicine will do what its supposed to.

Truthfully, I have more of a conspiracy theory that goes something like this...let's say you buy a bottle of Tums today that has 100 tums in it and an expiration of 1 year from today. One year and 3 months from today you still have 85 of them left- and you throw them away due to the expiration date and go buy more. Not that they won't work, but most medicine gets used for an immediate need then sits on a shelf for years. How do they make money if you use one bottle of tums for 5 years and don't throw it away because of the expiration date?

But thats just me.
posted by Chuck Cheeze at 11:21 AM on February 15, 2007

The law requires an expiration date on medications so they put one on... but it often is pretty arbitrary.

For something unstable like an antibiotic I would be pretty religious about respecting the expiration date. For acetaminophen? Nah. Take it.
posted by kika at 11:29 AM on February 15, 2007

Chug away.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:34 AM on February 15, 2007

Why don't you call the 1-800 number and just ask?
posted by ml98tu at 11:36 AM on February 15, 2007

The official medical answer is always going to be don't take medicines that have expired. I would take it without concern and replace it when convenient.
posted by nanojath at 11:41 AM on February 15, 2007

[hearsay alert] I've always heard that the expiration date is roughly the time when the medicine loses is efficacy by 50%. Not that you should take twice the dose...
posted by grateful at 11:45 AM on February 15, 2007

Best answer: I would take it, without compensating for it being expired. Just take the normal dose.

And to repeat odinsdream, koudelka is absolutely wrong that you can't overdose on tylenol. It's actually quite easy to.

(there is a very effective antidote however, IF you get to the hospital within 24-48 hours)

/former poisons control officer
posted by gaspode at 11:46 AM on February 15, 2007

Best answer: According to this article, you should be fine:

Do Medications Really Expire?: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/460159
posted by ml98tu at 11:47 AM on February 15, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks people--I'm gonna take some now.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:50 AM on February 15, 2007

koudelka really has to stop seeing Dr Nick.
posted by oxford blue at 12:00 PM on February 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

The lethal dose is surprisingly low - numbers of people die by error every year I recall reading.
posted by A189Nut at 1:55 PM on February 15, 2007

It's not just "numbers" of people, it's surprisingly high. Something like 500 people die every year in the USA from acetaminophen overdose. Keep that figure in mind when you hear about something that kills X number of people per year in an effort to scare you about something. If it's less dangerous than Tylenol...
posted by Justinian at 4:22 PM on February 15, 2007

Not only can you overdose on Tylenol but when I worked in a medical holding ward (Basically anyone who wasn't going to surgery but was getting admitted to hospital went there after being in the ER) lots of admissions were suicide attempts by Tylenol overdose.

They were mostly girls and they had mostly shot their livers because of it so while they weren't going to die right away they were going to die from liver failure in the near future.

Not a pleasant way to go.
posted by Silentgoldfish at 5:39 PM on February 15, 2007

The lethal dose is surprisingly low - numbers of people die by error every year I recall reading.

A toxic dose is about 12 grams at once. So, 24 tablets in one sitting and you've blown your liver.
posted by Silentgoldfish at 5:42 PM on February 15, 2007

Thats extremely misleadling, Silentgolfdish. First of all, the toxic dose can be as low as 8 grams in a single dose. Secondly, because it isn't metabolized quickly you don't need to take it all at once; multiple smaller doses can easily cause overdose, and people often take Tylenol and then take a cough suppressant or something that contains acetaminophen without even realizing it. Thirdly, if you take Tylenol frequently, the toxic dose can be much much lower (even as low as 4 grams in 24 hours). Fourthly, if you drink alcohol the toxic dose is much lower.

And so on.
posted by Justinian at 6:06 PM on February 15, 2007

Previously. (Searched for "expired medication").
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 7:46 PM on February 15, 2007

Response by poster: RikiTikiTavi,

I searched and found that. It really wasn't helpful. I wanted to know about tylenol, not an opiate.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:41 PM on February 15, 2007

Justinian, obviously, but you can say that about lethal doses of most drugs. Anyway, we're talking about lethal doses, I don't think anyone's going to take 23 tablets in a sitting for the hell of it.
posted by Silentgoldfish at 11:13 PM on February 15, 2007

When pharmaceutical companies submit new drugs or altered licenses to the FDA, they must submit data regarding the stability of their drug. Because of the cost of this testing, many companies do select an arbitrary time to carry out this stability testing, and that becomes the published expiration date. For some drugs, it is worth the extra expense to extend the date as long as possible, for other drugs, it's not worth it.

Short answer: Sometimes the expiration date is meaningless, sometimes it's not. For less expensive drugs, it is most likely the former.

IANAD and this is not medical advice.
posted by kamikazegopher at 7:42 AM on February 16, 2007

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