While it is not generally recommended, it is usually safe to use an albuterol sulfate inhaler beyond the expiry date on the device. However, the inhaler may not be as effective as it once was. All medications eventually break down and stop being effective.

An albuterol sulfate — or salbutamol — inhaler relieves asthma symptoms and attacks. Most people do not use reliever inhalers every day, and they may expire long before a person finishes using them.

It is important to note the albuterol inhaler Proair HFA was discontinued in 2022, impacting Medicaid patients who used it as a preferred option. Ventolin HFA has now replaced it as the preferred inhaler for Medicaid, but Proair Respiclick remains available.

It may be safe to use these inhalers, but not all medications are safe or effective after their expiration dates pass.

Below, learn more about inhaler expiry dates and how to store and dispose of albuterol sulfate inhalers safely.

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Most inhalers, such as ProAir RespiClick, are safe to use for 13 months after removal from their foil pouches or after reaching the expiration date, whichever comes first.

A 2022 study found that expired albuterol inhalers still had over 90% of their original strength in most cases, even if they had expired up to 16 years ago.

However, the effectiveness of expired medications is not guaranteed once the expiration date has passed and can depend on how they have been stored over time. Proper storage is essential for ensuring that the inhaler is effective. It is important to store inhalers away from direct sunlight, high temperatures, and changes in humidity.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) also advises against using expired medications.

A person can find the expiration date on the packaging and the inhaler’s canister.

People should only use expired asthma inhalers in urgent situations when there are no other options.

If a person uses an expired inhaler in an emergency, they should try to use a new inhaler as soon as possible and seek medical treatment.

If a person does not have access to an albuterol inhaler and has mild asthma symptoms, they may be able to use an over-the-counter item known as Primatene Mist. This is the only FDA-approved asthma inhaler available without a prescription and contains epinephrine rather than albuterol. It cannot replace albuterol, but it is an option for people with mild asthma to use until they can get albuterol.

The main risk of using an expired albuterol sulfate inhaler is that it may not control asthma symptoms as effectively as a new inhaler.

For example, if someone uses an expired inhaler to control an asthma attack, they may find that the medication does not work as well as it should. This is because the active ingredients break down over time.

The medication’s effectiveness reduces over time, but the inhalers are usually safe to use after expiration and are unlikely to pose additional health risks.

All medications eventually break down and stop being effective. Since 1979, legislators have required drug manufacturers to put expiration dates on medications.

After the date has passed, it is no longer possible to guarantee the drug’s potency.

It is also important to store medications correctly, as improper storage may result in an active ingredient degrading before the printed expiration date.

Properly storing medication involves:

  • keeping a product in its original packaging
  • storing it at the recommended temperature, which is usually a controlled room temperature of 77°F (25°C)
  • keeping it away from light and moisture

However, it is important to check the specific instructions on each medication’s label.

Research on medication potency

To determine a drug’s expiration date, researchers expose it to heat, light, and humidity and observe changes over time.

They also look at how the body interacts with the medication following this exposure testing.

A drug’s effectiveness decreases over time. However, research by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests that most medications retain much of their potency for at least a few years after their expiry dates.

The research found that 90% of more than 100 drugs retained most of their potency even up to 15 years after their dates of expiration.

There are some exceptions to this, however. The following drugs are unsafe to use after their expiry dates:

To prolong the lives of albuterol sulfate inhalers and other medications, people can do the following:

Keep medications in a cool, dry place

A person can store inhalers at a controlled room temperature of about 77°F (25°C), though a range of 59°F to 86°F (15°C to 30°C) is usually safe.

Leaving medication in a car or environment likely to experience extreme temperature changes can reduce its effectiveness.

If this happens, consult a doctor or pharmacist. They may recommend replacing the product.

Avoid damage to the canister

Inhalers rely on a well-functioning canister. If punctured, the pressurized canister may burst, and the device will no longer work.

For added protection, keep an inhaler in a box or padded bag.

Replace the cap after use

The cap helps protect the device and maintain the pressure in the canister.

Clean it every week

Manufacturers encourage people to clean their asthma inhalers at least once a week.

There are no standard guidelines for the disposal of asthma inhalers, and many drug take-back programs do not accept them.

However, some sources recommend that people refrain from throwing away old inhalers.

This is because the pressurized canisters explode if they are compacted or incinerated. There may also be some medication left in each canister, which can contaminate a water supply.

A person could contact their local trash and recycling facility for best practices on inhaler disposal.

The manufacturer’s instructions may also recommend a particular method of disposal. A pharmacist or another healthcare professional may recommend a safe method of disposal.

Can an expired inhaler harm a person?

An expired inhaler might not deliver the correct dose of medication, which could lead to inadequate relief of symptoms.

However, it is unlikely to cause harm in the sense of toxicity or dangerous side effects.

It is best to check with a healthcare professional or pharmacist for guidance on using expired medications, as they can advise on the best course of action.

Does albuterol expire?

Yes, albuterol inhalers do have expiration dates.

Like all medications, albuterol can lose its effectiveness over time. Using an expired albuterol inhaler may result in the medication being less potent, which could lead to inadequate relief of asthma symptoms.

A person can check the expiration date on their inhaler and replace it when it expires to ensure they are getting the full benefit of the medication.

What happens if a person uses an inhaler without asthma?

Medical professionals generally do not recommend using an inhaler without asthma or any respiratory condition for which it is prescribed.

Inhalers typically contain medications such as albuterol, which are bronchodilators that work by relaxing the muscles around the airways. This makes breathing easier for individuals with conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

A person may experience side effects of albuterol, which can include:

  • feeling shaky
  • faster heartbeat for a short while
  • headaches

How long does a puff of an inhaler last?

The duration of action of a puff from an inhaler can vary depending on the specific medication and the individual’s response to it.

For short-acting bronchodilators such as albuterol, the effects usually start almost immediately after inhalation and can last for about 5 hours.

It is essential that a person follows the prescribed dosage and frequency that a healthcare professional recommends for optimal control of symptoms.

Most albuterol inhalers expire one year after being issued.

Evidence suggests that an inhaler retains most of its potency for at least one year after the printed expiration date. However, this depends on several factors, including storage conditions.

It is important to store inhalers according to the manufacturers’ recommendations. It is also best to replace inhalers once their expiration dates pass. This reduces the risks of experiencing asthma symptoms and complications.

People may be able to dispose of expired inhalers by returning them to the pharmacy. Manufacturers also often give disposal instructions.