(CNN) – Have you ever reached for a pain reliever or other medicine to find it has an old expiration date? Don't throw it out just yet, it may still be okay to use.
Using an expired drug is probably okay if you have a minor health issue such as a headache or sinus trouble. If your condition is serious, don't chance it. Many medicines, especially tablets and capsules, have a shelf life well beyond the date on the bottle, experts say.
"The reality is that because these expiration dates are so conservative probably even 5 – 10 years from the time of the expiration date a person can try still using their product." said Dr. Sharon Bergquist of the Emory School of Medicine.
Manufactures guarantee their drugs will be safe and fully effective up until the expiration date, which is usually 1 to 5 years after it's produced.
"But even with medications that are long expired the amount of effectiveness is usually over 90%," says Dr. Bergquist.
There are certain medicines, however, that should not be used beyond the expiration date, often because they treat chronic conditions such as heart disease or diabetes where 100% potency is crucial.
"Nitroglicerin which quickly loses its effectiveness after you open the bottle, insulin, vaccines, suspension type antibiotics that you have to refrigerate, eyedrops that are kept in a preservative bottle," says Dr. Bergquist.
To help your medications stand the test of time, store them in a cool dry place away from sunlight and in their original containers.