Keep your cool when it comes to medicines

19 December 2013

With the holidays upon us and the weather heating up across Australia, NPS MedicineWise is reminding people that extremes in temperature can impact the effectiveness of medicines.

Clinical adviser at NPS MedicineWise, Dr Andrew Boyden, says that there are strategies that can be used to keep medicines safe and effective in extreme temperatures.

“Most medicines need to be stored under 25°C, so if you’re preparing for a heatwave or hitting the road over the holidays, you might need to use a cooler bag, esky or insulated pouch to store your medicines.”

Medicines may no longer work properly when stored above the maximum temperature recommended or if they freeze. Some medicines can also change their form in the heat and become difficult to use.


About 30% of people get motion sickness when travelling by air, car, sea or train, with 5% experiencing severe symptoms, and Dr Boyden says that prevention in the first place is more effective than trying to treat it once you have it.

“There are simple tips that can help prevent or ease motion sickness, especially if you’re travelling with children”, he says.

“Try closing your eyes or looking out a window or at the horizon. Avoid reading and playing games as this can worsen motion sickness. Getting a seat or cabin in the middle of a boat or plane or sitting in or near the front of a car can help. You can also feel better by getting some fresh air, staying calm and relaxing, and avoiding alcohol and heavy, greasy meals.”

But Dr Boyden says that if simple preventative steps don’t work on their own, you can try a medicine for motion sickness.

“Chat to your doctor or pharmacist about a suitable medicine for you or your child. If you take a medicine, you will usually need to take it before your journey to prevent symptoms developing. Motion sickness delays digestion, so your body will not absorb a medicine as well if you take it when you already have symptoms,” he says.

“Be on the lookout for side effects that may affect your ability to drive or perform other activities safely. Medicines for motion sickness should not be given to some children, particularly those younger than 2 years”.


Mixing certain foods or drink, including alcohol, with medicines can change how a medicine works in your body, and Dr Boyden says that particular care should be taken over the festive season.

“Because alcohol can stay in the body for several hours, interactions can happen even if you take your medicine some time after your last drink,” says Dr Boyden.

Interactions between some medicines (for example, the antibiotics metronidazole and tinidazole) and alcohol can produce severe reactions like nausea, vomiting and skin flushing. And some medicines can increase the effects of alcohol, like drowsiness, sleepiness, dizziness, and difficulty concentrating. This can happen with medicines used for sleep problems and anxiety, antidepressants, cough and cold medicines, and allergy and travel sickness medicines.

“Whether you’re taking prescription, over-the-counter or complementary medicines, it’s important to check with your doctor or pharmacist before drinking alcohol to reduce your chance of potentially harmful interactions,” he says.

“In most cases you won’t have to completely avoid alcohol, but you may need to limit your intake.”


Independent, evidence-based and not-for-profit, NPS MedicineWise enables better decisions about medicines and medical tests. We are funded by the Australian Government Department of Health.

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