Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Caution: Summer Sun Affects Medications!

Enjoy the warmth and sun of summer, but heed these warnings. Not only can some medicines be harmed by heat or sunlight, but you can be harmed by the sun when you are taking certain medications.

There are several risks related to sun and medicine. In a nutshell, these include:
  • Sun-damaged drugs – pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter drugs that lose potency or become unstable when exposed to heat
  • Phototoxic reactions – dangerous physical conditions (including cell death) resulting from ordinary sun exposure when taking certain medications
  • Photoallergic reactions – Skin rashes resulting from UV light/sun exposure with some drugs
  • Compromised physical abilities – negative effects on your body's ability to respond to normal physical stresses when taking certain drugs
To be prepared, let's look at each of these four sunlight-drug interaction risks.

Medications Harmed by Summer Heat

Many prescription drug do not store well at higher temperatures, leading to rapid potency degradation. If you read your medications' fine print, you’ll find that many common prescription medicines should be stored at normal room temperatures: roughly mid-70s (f). With some medicines, the drug’s stability may be able to withstand a brief time of moderately elevated temperatures, but usually that still assumes maintaining it at less than 90 degrees (f). This means that:
  • You may want to discontinue ordering any prescriptions by mail delivery during high heat seasons, as they will likely be exposed to prolonged and damaging high temperatures during transport. During the summer, consider instead buying your drugs at a local store, or using overnight delivery of your mailed medications.
  • If you lose your home air conditioning due to electrical failure, or don’t have air conditioning and may experience heat in the 80s or higher in your home, have a plan B for your pharmaceuticals, such as keeping them in the basement, in a cooler (in a plastic bag for moisture protection) with some ice, or at a neighbor’s air-conditioned home.
  • If you’re traveling in summer by car or by air, your drugs may be at risk of slowly “cooking” at temperatures above their safe zone in your car’s trunk or while your suitcase is baking in the sun on an airport’s tarmac. If you must travel in hot weather with your medications, consider keeping them in a purse with you; if you’re uncomfortably warm, then your drugs are at heat risk.
Be alert in hot climates to any changes in your health that might indicate a potency problem with your drugs, and let your doctor know of your concerns. Also, talk with your medical insurance provider, as they may have replacement coverage for your heat damaged medications.

To see if any of your prescription drugs are temperature sensitive, look them up on RxList.com.

Certain Drugs Increase Sensitivity to Sun

Photoallergic drug interactions
Some medications can cause your body to react to the presence of ultraviolet (UV) rays, such as those naturally present in sunlight. If you are taking these drugs, you can easily become sunburned with considerably less time in the sun than you can handle normally. Another common reaction is developing a spreading rash that resembles eczema.

This photosensitivity from drugs occurs with several types of common prescription and non-prescription medications, including certain antibiotics, antidepressants, diuretics (water pills), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and sulfonamides (sulfa drugs).

Phototoxic drug interactions
Having certain medications in or on your body can result in abnormal sun sensitivity, known as a phototoxic reaction. Phototoxicity occurs when the drug reacts to the sun's UV light, spreading throughout your body, and resulting in cell death. Phototoxic damage can often be long-lasting, even up to 20 years. Phototoxic drug categories include certain NSAIDs (including ibuprofen) and many tetracycline drugs, as well as some heart medications.
How to avoid phototoxic and photo allergic reactions
To find out if a drug you are taking may result in photoallergic or phototoxic reactions, talk with your doctor or perform a search for the medication on RxList.com.

If it is necessary for you to continue taking a drug that can cause photoallergic or phototoxic physical responses, protect yourself by avoiding direct sunlight, wearing sunblock, and donning protective clothing.

Overheating and Other Physical Risks

Some drugs affect blood flow to your skin and your ability to sweat. These interactions can cause you to overheat easily in the heat of summer. Other drugs can cause dehydration, which also limits your ability to perform physically demanding tasks.

These drugs cross many categories of pharmaceuticals, including certain water pills, recreational drugs, allergy and cold medicines, antidepressants, stimulants, blood pressure medications, and psychiatric medicines.

Given the seriousness of these reactions, which could lead to life-threatening conditions, it is important to curtail or carefully monitor physical effort during hotter seasons when taking medication. Talk with your doctor to make sure you are fully aware of the over-the-counter medications or prescription medicines you take that can affect your body's physical abilities.

General Sun Safety

To make sure you can fully enjoy your time in the sun this summer, become knowledgeable about the potential sun-medication interaction risks of any drugs you are taking, and follow standard sun safety and heat safety procedures, such as protecting your skin with sunblock and appropriate clothing, and limiting direct sun exposure.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

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