You Asked, We Answered

Answers to five common health and medication questions

(RxWiki News) One of the most common questions pharmacists receive is, "Can I drink alcohol while taking my medication?" We've answered that question and several others below. See what other questions made the list.

1) If a prescription is out of date, is it safe to use?

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires drug manufacturers to list an expiration date on all products. This date is determined after extensive testing for potency and stability.

Taking any medication after the expiration date listed by the manufacturer is never recommended mainly because the potency of the medication cannot be guaranteed. Most drugs lose potency after the expiration date to varying degrees, but they usually are not harmful or toxic. However, depending on the medication and the condition for which it is taken, a small loss in potency can be potentially dangerous.

When you receive a medication dispensed by a pharmacy, you generally should not use it after six months to one year from the dispensed date or the date indicated by the pharmacy. The stability of medications listed by manufacturers is based on the medication stored in the original container and under controlled conditions. Once you open the bottle, you are changing those conditions.

Ask your pharmacist or physician any questions you have about your medication's shelf life.

2) Can I drink alcohol with my antibiotic?

This is one of the most common questions pharmacists receive. Most pharmacists will tell patients to avoid alcohol while taking antibiotics. This is because alcohol can inhibit the body's natural ability to fight off infection — plus it can promote dehydration. Drinking alcohol with most antibiotics may not cause you much harm, but it can lead to serious side effects with some antibiotics.

Patients should not drink alcohol with the following antibiotics:

Drinking with these antibiotics can cause a potentially serious disulfiram-like reaction. Patients may experience severe flushing, fast heart rate and low blood pressure. Patients may also experience nausea and vomiting. It is best to avoid alcohol for at least three days after you stop taking these medications. Furthermore, patients are advised to avoid alcohol until they finish their antibiotics and are feeling better.

Before drinking alcohol, ask your health care provider whether it could interact with any of your medications.

3) How can I tell the difference between allergies and cold symptoms?

Colds and allergies often cause unpleasant symptoms. Unfortunately, it's often hard to tell the difference between a cold and an allergy because they share many symptoms.

But there are some key differences that may help you sort out which is affecting you. A cold usually lasts from three to 14 days and occurs mostly in the winter. You may experience symptoms like a cough, body aches, fatigue, sore throat, watery eyes, and a runny or stuffy nose. Your mucus will probably appear green — a sign your body is fighting an active infection. Many cold sufferers also experience a mild fever that comes and goes over time.

On the other hand, allergies can last for months — for as long as you are exposed to the allergen. Allergies can occur at any time of the year and affect different people at different times. You may have a sore throat, itchy and watery eyes and a cough. Your mucus will normally appear clear. Changing settings or removing allergens can often address allergies, which isn't usually the case for a cold.

4) How should I store my medications?

Many people overlook proper medication storage. How you store your medication can ultimately affect how your medication works.

It's very important to store your medications according to the product labeling. You can usually find this information at the bottom of the product label. Know that heat, air, light and moisture may damage your medicine. Store your medicines in a cool, dry place.

If you're like most people, you probably store your medicine in a bathroom cabinet. Unfortunately, the heat and moisture from your shower, bath and sink may damage your medicine. Your medicines can become less potent or go bad before the expiration date. Always store medicine in its original container.

Always inspect your medications for changes in color, texture or smell. Do not take pills that stick together, are harder or softer than normal, or are cracked or chipped. Check the expiration date on your medicines and throw out those that are out of date.

Make sure to store your medication out of the reach of children and pets, such as in a locked cabinet.

5) How do I know whether I have a cold or the flu?

Because the common cold and flu have similar symptoms, it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between the two. Your doctor and pharmacist are great resources at times like this.

The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. The flu is usually worse than the common cold. Flu symptoms are typically more intense and include fever, body aches, extreme tiredness and dry cough. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds don't usually result in serious health problems like pneumonia or hospitalization, which are common complications of the flu.

Your doctor can determine whether you have a cold or the flu. The best way to prevent a cold is washing your hands with soap and water often. Flu prevention includes washing your hands with soap and water and getting a yearly flu vaccine. Many pharmacies currently have the flu vaccine available.

Ask your pharmacist and doctor any questions you have about colds and the flu.