24 answers

Do Antibiotics Really Go Bad After 10 Days?

Do you really have to throw out antibiotics after 10 days or do they just tell us that so we don't over medicate. I don't want to give my kids antibiotics if they don't need them, but sometimes you just know they need one and can't afford to go to the doctor and have an antibiotc leftover from last time.

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So What Happened?™

Just wanted everyone to know that I do give them the correct dose and for the full 10 days, and yes I did have some leftover on one antibiotic that was given. I believe the pharmacy gave me the same amount for both kids but my daughter only got half the dose, therefore, I had some leftover. I've never given them any antibiotics without the doctor prescribing it for them. And I know that one AB works for one sickness and not for another. I was just curious about whether they really go bad. Also, we have a high deductible and when you have 2 kids who both get sick, the doctor bill is really high. And I have colloidal silver and it seemed to keep them from getting sick at first, but now it doesn't seem to work anymore. Thanks for the great responses!

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Typically, if it is a liquid antibiotic, the solid (powder) form was mixed with the liquid form prior to dispensing it to the patient/customer. The reason this is done is to decrease the breakdown of the active ingredient. Once the mixture is made, the stability of the product (ie, active ingredients) will begin to break down at a certain rate. Drug development chemists have already determined this breakdown rate and contribute this input during the development process. My guess is that not too long after the 10 days, the active ingredient is no longer effective and you might be administering a bad substitute of breakdown products or simply an ineffective drug.

4 moms found this helpful

EDIT: I understand leftovers with half dose, since some meds they can only give you a full bottle of. In that case, throw out the extra, because the meds break down and aren't as effective after a couple of weeks. I print out the list of covered prescriptions from my insurance company as well as the list of $4 medications from walmart and if possible, I try to have the doctor prescribe a lower-cost alternative. Walmart has amoxicillin for $4, but it's not always the best choice, so sometimes I do end up with a pricier medication. My mom was a stay at home mom with five kids and we never re-used medications, because even with some leftover, there wont be enough for a full dose for the full length of time.

If you are following the dispensing instructions, you should not have any leftover antibiotics. If you routinely have leftovers, then you are either missing doses, not giving the correct amount, or not giving the medication for the prescribed number of days.

I realize that with experience, some people can tell when their child will need an antibiotic. However, unless you're a doctor or an expert in pathology, just giving your child an antibiotic that you have laying around can do more harm than good because not all germs respond to just any antibiotic. Antibiotics are a formulation, and formulations break down over time, some more quickly than others. I wouldn't keep any medication past the expiration date, and with antibiotics, there shouldn't be any left to keep.

Just because the doctor prescribed amoxicillin for the last ear infection doesn't mean that s/he won't prescribe zithromax or something else for the next one, based on how much fluid is in the ear and how inflammed it is. Just because the doctor prescribed zithromax for the last respiratory infection doesn't mean s/he will prescribe it again. Germs become immune to antibiotics if they are given too frequently.

I am a single mom and understand money being tight. It seems my son always gets sick when there is $30 in the bank and a week or more until payday. I keep a low limit, low interest credit card for emergency use for this kind of thing - to pay the copays for the doctor visit and medications. If the medication cost is an issue consider filling them at Target or Walmart - they both have low-cost prescriptions, with many commonly prescribed drugs around $4. If the unexpected cost of a doctor visit is the issue, then try putting aside ten dollars a month just for that purpose and only use those funds towards unexpected doctor visits.

There have been many times that my own mother knew I needed an antibiotic (she had nursing training) but took me to the doctor so that the doctor could decide which antibiotic I needed. I leave it upto my son's doctor to decide whether he needs antibiotics - and sometimes he doesn't, because antibiotics only treat bacteria, not a viral infection.

The bottom line is you shouldn't have any leftover antibiotics to be worrying about using. Not giving the medication as often and for as long as prescribed can actually make the bacteria stronger and resistant to antibiotics. Make sure you are giving the dosage properly. Lastly, my mom gave me this piece of advice regarding food in the fridge but it works in the medicine cabinet too:


3 moms found this helpful

The antibiotics don't go bad. The older they are the less potent they can be. The drs. and you should not want to take antibiotics unless they are truly needed. The drs. have overprescribed them in the past and now we have all sorts of mutant bacteria that are resistant to the drugs. This is because people don't finish as prescribed, take as directed etc... In MO a couple of the grocery store chains have begun givings prescribed antibiotics for free. My grandmother has used this in the past. She was grateful for the free meds and took them all as directed. Sometimes the drs. office will have samples that they can give you if you let them know that you cannot afford the meds. The liquid meds do have a short life so you should not keep them much longer that what is prescribed.

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Hi L.,

We use natural antibiotics because they don't break down the immune system like synthetic antibiotics do. I always keep them on hand if a need arises. It rarely does... but garlic tablets will keep and so will the liquid form if kept in the refridgerator. Collodial silver for more serious things will never go bad. It's simply a mineral and bacteria can not adhere to silver. Melaleuca oil will take care of an infection in a lot of cases as well.



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Antibiotics in pill form do not expire right away. Antibiotics in liquid form, like you give to children, expire after 10 days. Leave it in the refrigerator and look at it after about 20 days. It will look and smell nasty.

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Actually the antibiotics that are reconstituted for children do go bad that fast. Also there is not enough for 2 full courses of antibiotics in the bottles. If you do not complete a full course you are more likely to make your child get a resistant strain of the bacteria making it harder and more expensive to treat your child. If you think your child needs antibiotics you should always take them in to get a new prescription.

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I would really caution against giving a child medications without talking with your doctor. Antibiotics are often bacteria specific-- some work better with respiratory infections, some with strep, etc. Many childhood illnesses are also viral, and so antibiotics will do nothing for them. The problem is that now many bacteria are becoming antibiotic resistant, and overusing them worsens this problem. Your doctor would know best what to prescribe for what infection. He can also monitor the effectiveness of an antibiotic and change it if needed. A phone call to your pediatrician doesn't cost anything, and some pharmacies (Publix, for example) will give you antibiotics for free or a very reduced charge. If you explain to your physician your financial situation, he can direct you to some low-cost or no-cost options to get your child seen.

I am a mom of three girls -- ages 4 through 17 -- who works in health care.

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My aunt is an RN, and should have known better, but a few years ago took some left over antibiotics for some issues she had - I think more than once. She ended up killing off the good bacteria in her gut, so the bad took over, and she nearly died in the hospital (toxic megacolon). They finally cut out much of her colon to save her life. Now she lives with the repurcussions for the rest of her life (issues from half her colon being gone) but she is glad to be alive. You don't want to mess around with antibiotics.

You might look at why your kids are sick so much. My kids are 3 and 6, and are hardly ever sick. The older one is in the habit of thoroughly washing his hands every time he uses the bathroom. We're still trying to train the younger one. Also, naturopathic physicians strongly believe in taking probiotics, as 70% of our immunity is in our gut (the good bacteria). My ND also recommended rubbing castor oil into my son's belly at night (clockwise) to increase his immunity.

I have recently discovered oil of oregano. If I or my kids start to have a runny nose, cough or ear ache, I give/take it and the issue goes away. I was ready to take my 3yo to the doctor recently because his ear started hurting in the night, but a dose then and a dose in the morning and it didn't bother him any more (I kept giving it to him for a few days).

Anyway, just a few things to think about. I've been trying to find better ways to keep us healthy.

2 moms found this helpful

Yes, liquid antibiotics do go bad after a while -- probably not strictly 10 days, but I certainly wouldn't trust them from one sickness to the next. (Drugs in pills -- capsules or tablets -- last much longer; but liquid antibiotics are mixed with water at the pharmacy for a reason -- if they didn't have a short shelf life, they'd be shipped in a liquid state and dispensed like cough syrup.) If the abx are too expensive, ask your doctor for samples or to write drugs that come with generics. If all your kids have the same illness, he may be able to give you one bottle for both kids (giving you the doses for each child), but many doctors will not want to do this for liability issues -- what if you screw up and accidentally give the baby the dose you were supposed to give your older child, because the directions on the bottle were written for the older child?

But definitely ask for drugs that come in generic -- I used to work at a pharmacy, and you could tell when the drug reps had been through and talked to all the doctors, because all of a sudden, every other prescription was for the "latest and greatest" antibiotic. Whether it worked any better than the drugs available in generics was another consideration! Most doctors understand that money is tight and will gladly write a Rx for a cheap drug if you ask, and if they think it will work.

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A pharmacist told me that after the expiration date some antibiotics will do the reverse effect and be poison to the body and make the body sick. Other antibiotics lose their potency and are no longer good. Antibiotics aren't like other medications that just lose some of their potency. They are either good or they are not. Be on the safe side and throw them out.

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L., hi, hope the little one is feeling better! I know they always give you more than you are told to give from the doctor. Esp amoxicillin (sp) this is because it only comes in certain quantities and kids don't use all of it. I've thrown so much out that I feel wasteful! The main reason we advise to throw it away, is because if you use it when you know it's needed, but don't have enough to last the full 10 days...(from the original script) you can actually cause the bacteria to become a "super bug." Kinda like when we give vaccinations to our kids, they are exposed to a small amount of the disease so their bodies build an immunity. When the "bug" is exposed to a small amount of antibiotic, it builds an immunity and changes to a stronger bacteria that is immune to the med. Hence the development of MRSA. I'm sure you've heard of it. I hope this helps and don't feel bad about wasting the med. It's really necessary and safe for everyone.

2 moms found this helpful

I'm not sure if they go "bad." But normally, you only get enough to treat the problem. You really shouldn't have leftovers. I would think the pill form would last longer than the liquids though. I don't think I would chance saving any liquid antibiotic, but you could call and ask a pharmacist.

1 mom found this helpful

Antibiotics do not go bad after 10 days, but the most important factor is "not giving the leftover antibiotics as a quick fix in the future"........there is never enough left over to treat anything...you always need a specific amount to counteract a bacteria. The real problem comes into play when someone has some left and then uses it to ward off a future infection. This can be bad because the baby/you, whoever is taking the antibiotics, may seem to get better with just a short dose...even though the bacteria will take a hit, not all die...then the bacteria will rebuild strength and come back worse then before ....make sense? :)

Yes they do. You should never have antibiotics left over if you follow the dosage instructions. Never stop giving it because the child feels better. You give the infection a chance to build more strentgh and a stronger medication will be needed to overcome it. Most antibiotics are rather cheap. They are normally about 5 dollars. Now Zithromax and Augmenton are much more expensive but Amoxicillian runs about 5 dollars for a full 10 day dose. Now the doc visit is another story. You can go to your local health department for a low or no cost visit.

L., what specific drugs are you talking about? The liquids that have to be mixed before selling them to you YES! they do go bad after 10 days, they lose their effectiveness and won't work. I am a Pharmacy Technician. Sometimes it will tell you to discard the remainder... lose it's effectiveness and sometimes when the DR writes the RX, for a certain amount of ML's per dosage, it may come in a size that is just enough or more than enough but you need to take it following the RX directions.

If your child doesn't need an antibiotic then the DR won't prescribe one. They don't want to over medicate anyone.

I will tell you not only from my work experience but also as a mom as I have a soon to be 20 yr old and a 6 year old.

Sometimes if it is a tablet or capsule form, it may have a s longer shelf life but keep in mind the meds are prescribed to be used for the duration and following the directions. If you don't use it for the recommended time, the condition may appear to get better but soon will return...or not get better at all.

Keep in mind if you needed a RX and had an on going illness the DR MAY write the RX with a REFILL then you could get that as necessary or follow the Dr's directions.

The Dr's have spent a lot of time in school as well as the pharmacists and their knowledge is worth the cost of a copay or otherwise as you are talking about your health.

If you want to avoid the DR. You could ask a pharmacist depending on your child's age what they may recommend. There has been a law that prohibits the pharmacists from certain recommendations for certain aged children, then you DO have to consult your DR. Too many children were dying due to the parents trying to medicate or in correctly medicating the children so they want people of certain aged children to be advised by the doctor.

I hope this helps explains things a bit.
The other thing you can call your pharmacy and they will tell you the same thing.

There should be a date on it for expiration. I always use leftover ones! You can call your pharmacist and ask what they think. If they won't tell you, email me b/c I have a friend who is a pharmacist and I will ask her.


It may be helpful to research natural antibiodics for times when you cannot afford the doctor. One I would suggest researching is colloidal silver. There are also people available at health and natural food stores that could answer questions about these.

You are supposed to take an antibiotic until it is gone so there should not be any leftover.

Hi L.,
I am married to a Pharmacist. I asked him and he says it depends on the antibiotic. His first question to me was what antibiotic? I didn't know so he says it depends. Liquids go bad before tablets but there is an expiration date on every bottle. Go by the expiration date. Hope this answers your question.
Best wishes!

Hi. I'm a pharmacy tech and if it's the oral liquid antibiotics, yes they do expire within 10 to 14 days depending on the drug. I hope this helps. :)

The reason they say to throw it away after 10 days is the pharmacy gives you enough medicine for the prescribed amount of time. Antibiotics work by weakening the infection with every dose. If you start a antibiotic without having enough to finish it, the infection can come back and stronger than it was before.

They last- they can't take a risk, they'd get sued. Right now I am taking some codiene that was my Dad's from 4 yrs ago. I had abd surgery,it is very effective. My grandmother was a nurse, nothing was dated, and she used meds that were efftive and 10 yrs old.

um duh. if your doctor gave you antibiotics for 10 days you use them for 10 days! they dont prescribe them unless they are needed. there is a reason they say use until gone! thats how they work

It just depends on the medicine.
If it is liquid form it probably needs to be refrigerated
and since it has already been mixed by the pharmacy, it probably will go bad after a short time. Pill forms, however, can last a long long time. Most need to be refrigerated so they keep their strength. If the expiration date is up then it will lose alot of its strength but sometimes you can still take them but it just won't be as effective. Penicillins for instance, sometimes if it is past their expiration date, it can cause allergy symptoms so you just have to use your own judgement. Personally, I would go by the instructions when it comes to my children, however, for me I would be willing to take the chance....but never on my children.

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