Heat and medication warning:

Taking precautions to beat the heat? You may not realize that your child’s prescription medications need protecting as well. As you seek cool, shady spots while on vacation, or at home, don’t leave your medicines behind in the car, say experts at The Montreal Children’s Hospital (MCH) of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC).  

“Most medications need to be stored in a controlled room temperature, between 20 to 25 degrees Celsius,” says Patricia Vandecruys, Site Coordinator of the Pharmacy Department at The Montreal Children’s Hospital. “Many prescription drugs are very sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity, and their potency and effectiveness can be altered if they are exposed to extreme heat.”

Egg on a sidewalk analogy

The active ingredient in some medications may break down at temperatures higher than 30 degrees Celsius. Much like what would happen to an egg when cracked on the sidewalk in extreme heat – the yolk and egg white change from liquid to solid as the egg cooks. Liquid medications and creams can potentially lose their stability in high heat conditions as the suspension or emulsion may separate. Capsules, powders and pills can also degrade under high heat. 

“The breakdown of meds may result in potentially harmful effects,” says Ms. Vandecruys. “What’s worse, you can’t necessarily tell if the medication has been altered.”  

Some meds, however, can stay stable during short periods of moderately high temperature, explains Ms. Vandecruys. 

“If you’re going for a day trip, it’s best to take only the quantity of medication you need,” she says. “Leave medication bottles behind in a hotel room or at home. If your child has been prescribed very sensitive products, such as insulin, thyroid medication or antibiotics, put the medication in a specialized cool pack which can be purchased at the pharmacy.” 

Not sure whether your child’s medications can withstand high temperatures? It is important to read the label. If your child’s medication bottle does not have a detailed label, ask your pharmacist who is most qualified to answer your questions about the safety of your child’s medication.

Don’t leave meds in the car 

Medications should never be stored in a car, especially not in the trunk or glove compartment, as temperatures inside a closed vehicle can get extremely hot. As well, when traveling by air, always carry medications in flight as opposed to packing them in your checked luggage.  

Do not administer any medications that are discolored, have an unusual odor, texture, or appear damaged, and don’t use creams that have separated. 

Meds at risk

Any life-saving medication such as heart medications, seizure drugs, hormone therapy drugs and insulin (including glucose test strips) should not be exposed to heat, even during short excursions.  

If there’s a prolonged power outage in your area, contact your pharmacist to determine whether your child’s prescription needs to be replaced.  

“Exposure to heat can make these drugs less effective,” says Ms. Vandecruys. “This is definitely something you can’t afford to treat casually.”

Beware of heat-related illness, sun sensitivity

It is also important to note that some medications can increase the risk of heat related illness, especially in older adults: beta-blockers, antiparkinson agents, antidepressants and diuretics are but a few. Other medications may cause increased sensitivity to the sun, otherwise known as photosensitivity. Your pharmacist should let you know if there are extra precautions you need to take while on a certain medication, but if unsure, you should always double-check. 


Related links:

The Montreal Children’s Hospital: http://www.thechildren.com/en/ 

MUHC: www.muhc.ca

About The Montreal Children’s Hospital 

The Montreal Children’s Hospital (MCH) is the pediatric teaching hospital of the McGill University Health Centre and is affiliated with McGill University. The MCH is a leader in providing a broad spectrum of highly specialized care to newborns, children, and adolescents from across Quebec. Our areas of medical expertise include programs in brain development/behavior, cardiovascular sciences, critical care, medical genetics and oncology, tertiary medical and surgical services, and trauma care. Fully bilingual, the hospital also promotes multiculturalism and serves an increasingly diverse community in more than 50 languages. The Montreal Children’s Hospital sets itself apart with its team approach to innovative patient care. Our health professionals and staff are dedicated to ensuring children and their families receive exceptional health care in a friendly and supportive environment.