You probably have some kind of cold medicine stocked in your medicine cabinet, but what do you do if you find a bottle of NyQuil or another common cold remedy that’s past its expiration date? Having a stuffy nose and sneezing isn’t pleasant at any time of year, but it can be especially annoying during the colder months. However, there are some great benefits to getting sick in the fall rather than in the summer.

There are fewer bugs outside so you don’t have to worry about contracting West Nile virus from mosquitoes, and with school back in session, kids won’t have as much free time to get infected with chickenpox at day care. So while a common cold can be annoying, it comes with some perks as well.

How to Know if NyQuil Has Gone Bad

First and foremost, you’ll want to know if the medicine has gone bad so that you don’t put yourself at risk of getting sicker while treating the symptoms of your illness. Some of the signs that your cold medicine has expired include:

  • A change in color or smell
  • Every medicine has an expiration date written on it, but medicines can also go bad before that date. If the color of the liquid inside the bottle has changed from blue to yellow or if there’s a change in smell, it’s a good sign that the medicine has gone bad.
  • An unusual texture
  • NyQuil contains active ingredients that separate from the liquid inside the bottle. If the substance has separated from the liquid, it’s time to toss the bottle in the trash.
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Can You Still Use Expired NyQuil?

If you have a cough or a runny nose but don’t feel like you have time to visit the doctor, you might consider using expired cold medicine from your own cabinet.

Cold medicine is supposed to be effective for about a year after being purchased. So is it safe to use expired cold medicine?

The short answer is yes.

The long answer is that while the active ingredients in cold medicine don’t actually go bad, the flavorings inside the bottle might change. This doesn’t mean the medicine is ineffective, it just means it might taste a little different than you remember. That being said, using expired cold medicine is not recommended because you can’t be sure the taste has changed for the better. You also can’t be sure the medication is as potent as it was when it was fresh out of a pharmacy.

Using expired cold medicine is always a risk, and it’s probably not worth it.

Other Uses for Expired Cold Medication

Cold medicine has a wide variety of uses, beyond just treating cold symptoms. You might be surprised to learn that the active ingredients in common cold medications are also used to treat allergies, asthma, and even some types of headaches. If you find that the expiration date on your cold medicine is creeping up, don’t throw it away yet.

  • Sore throat: If you have a sore throat, use the medicine to help soothe the pain and swelling. You can even add it to warm water and create a homemade sore throat spray.
  • Flu prevention: It’s never too early to start thinking about flu season, but if you have a cough or a runny nose, you could be at risk for the flu. Throw some expired cold medicine into the humidifier in your house to help keep the flu away.
  • Bug bites: If your backyard has been overrun with mosquitoes and you’ve been bitten, you can use your expired cold medicine to calm the itchiness. Just add some to water to create a soothing spray to calm the itch.
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Is There Harm in Using Expired Medicine?

Cold medicine doesn’t actually get harmful once it’s passed its expiration date. It just becomes less potent, which means it might not be as effective at relieving your symptoms. It doesn’t mean the medicine will hurt you, it just doesn’t offer the same relief that it once did when it was fresh out of the bottle.

Make sure you read the expiration date on your cold medicine before you consider adding it to your medicine cabinet. The expiration date is there for a reason, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry. That being said, some cold medications should be used with caution because certain active ingredients may have side effects that make the medicine more harmful than helpful.

For instance, many cold medications contain acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or acetylsalicylic acid. If you use more than the recommended dosage, you could be at risk for side effects such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and even liver damage.

Summary


Cold and flu season is quickly approaching, and that means catching a cold or the flu is more likely than at any other time of year. Keeping your body healthy can feel like a challenge when you’re feeling under the weather, but there are plenty of things you can do to stay healthy even when you’ve got a cold or the flu. That being said, it’s important to take care of yourself if you’re sick, and that includes using expired cold medicine if that’s what you have on hand.

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David Warren
Author

David Warren is a pharmaceutical specialist that dispenses prescription medication on a daily basis. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in pharmacy from the University of Tennessee in 1991. With over 50 publications on medication-related and pharmacy topics, David has been able to share his experiences and knowledge with others. David with lots of experience and knowledge in medications that are utilized to treat a wide range of medical conditions. Before David dispenses a medication to a patient, he will go over the side effects, dosage recommendation and contraindications.

5 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Anonymous

    On the side of the bottle above the label

  2. Avatar
    Nick Wilson

    I’ve taken 39 month expired NyQuil Vicks caplets, it worked as it’s supposed to, I can safely say that the expired caplets allowed me to sleep.

  3. Avatar

    I cannot find the expiration date on the bottle. Where would it be?

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