It is usually safe to use an albuterol sulfate inhaler beyond the expiry date on the device, but 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 provides relief from asthma symptoms and attacks. Most people do not use reliever inhalers every day, and they may expire long before a person uses one up.

As of April 2020, some parts of the United States have experienced shortages of albuterol inhalers because hospitals are using them to treat respiratory symptoms of coronavirus disease 2019, better known as COVID-19.

The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology say that, if there is a local shortage, it is generally safe to use expired albuterol inhalers. They tend to remain at least partially effective after expiration.

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

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

Share on Pinterest
Maskot/Getty Images

Most inhalers, such as Ventolin HFA and ProAir RespiClick, are safe to use for 12 months after a person removes them from their foil pouches. The effectiveness is not guaranteed once the expiration date has passed.

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

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.

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.

The main risk associated with 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.

While the effectiveness of the medication reduces over time, 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 potency of the drug.

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 carried out 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.

According to the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, most properly stored medicines keep at least 70–80% of their potency for several years after their printed expiry dates, even after they have been opened.

There are some exceptions, 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 should store inhalers at a controlled room temperature of about 77°F (25°C), though a range of 59–86°F (15–30°C) is usually safe.

Leaving medication in a car or another 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. Also, there may be some medicine left in each canister, which can contaminate a water supply.

The manufacturer’s instructions may recommend a particular method of disposal. Also, a pharmacist or another healthcare provider is often able to recommend a safe method of disposal.

Most albuterol inhalers expire 1 year after being issued.

Evidence suggests that an inhaler retains most of its potency for at least 1 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. Also, it is 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. Also, manufacturers often give disposal instructions.