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Can You Use Expired Eye Drops?

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A close-up of a man applying eye drops to his right eye.

When it comes to eye care, safety and hygiene are paramount. Many of us may find a bottle of eye drops for treating dry eye or contact lenses at the bottom of a drawer or in the back of a medicine cabinet and wonder if they’re still safe to use past their expiration date. 

Together, we will unravel why eye drops expire, how to identify expired eye drops and discuss the potential risks and considerations involved in using them beyond their intended shelf life. You should not use expired eye drops unless it is an emergency situation.

Why Eye Drops Expire

Reduced Effectiveness

The efficacy of eye drops diminishes over time. Using drops past the expiration date means you might not receive the full benefits, which can be particularly concerning if you’re treating conditions that require precise dosages, like glaucoma.

Over time, the active ingredients in eye drops may degrade. This chemical breakdown can result in a product that no longer performs as expected.

Contamination Risk

Eye drops are sterile when opened, but repetitive use can introduce bacteria or fungi. After the expiration date, the preservatives that prevent microbial growth may not work as well—posing an increased risk of eye infections.

How to Tell if Eye Drops Are Expired

Expiry Date Check

The most straightforward way to ascertain if your eye drops are expired is by checking the expiration date on the bottle. This date reflects the last day that the drops are guaranteed to be at their highest level of potency and safety.

Changes in Colour or Consistency

If you notice any discolouration, cloudiness, or changes in thickness, these could be indicators of expired eye drops. Such changes can signal that the product’s composition has been compromised.

Altered Smell

A change in smell can also be an indicator of expired eye drops. If the drops smell off or are unusual, they could likely be past their prime and unsafe for use.

Reasons Not to Use Expired Eye Drops

Potential for Eye Irritation

Using eye drops that have gone bad could cause discomfort, burning, or stinging. If the comfort of your eyes is compromised, it defeats the purpose of using drops in the first place.

Risk of Infection

Given that the antiseptic quality of the preservatives can be reduced over time, expired eye drops could expose your eyes to harmful bacteria or fungi, leading to infections.

Reduced Efficacy

Relying on a product that has lost its potency may not relieve your symptoms, which can be frustrating at best and harmful at worst, especially if not treating a condition could lead to more severe health problems.

Is It Ever Okay to Use Expired Eye Drops?

In cases where you don’t have access to fresh eye drops and require immediate relief, an expired product could be considered—especially if it has only recently passed the expiration date. But overall, this is not recommended and should be avoided if possible.

If you’re contemplating the use of expired eye drops, consult a healthcare professional first. They can provide guidance and potentially offer safer alternatives.

Tips for Proper Eye Drop Storage

Room Temperature

Most eye drops should be stored at room temperature unless otherwise indicated. Extremes in temperature can affect the stability of the drops.

Avoiding Sunlight Exposure

Sunlight can degrade the active ingredients in the drops. To maintain their potency, keep them in a dark place.

Do Not Share Eye Drops

It may seem convenient to share eye drops with a family member or friend, but this can lead to cross-contamination and potential infection. Always use your own eye drops.

Hygiene Practices

Always wash your hands before using eye drops, and avoid touching the dropper tip to any surface, including your eye. This helps maintain the sterility of the drops for as long as possible.

A close-up of a person's hands being washed using soap and water.

Mark Your Bottles

A good practice is to mark the date you opened the eye drops on the bottle and to discard them after the recommended duration (usually around 28 days for preservative-free types). Remember, eye health is too important to gamble with, and maintaining a fresh, effective eye care regimen is a vital part of protecting your vision.

Properly Dispose of Expired Eye Drops

When in doubt, throw it out! Properly dispose of expired eye drops by following your local guidelines for medication disposal.

Your Safest Bet

Using expired eye drops isn’t recommended. While the risks can vary depending on how far past the expiration date of the product and whether there are visible signs of degradation, the safest course is to use medications as per the manufacturer’s guidelines. It’s always better to err on the side of caution, particularly when it comes to the health of your eyes.

If you’re facing an eye-related emergency, consult a healthcare professional and get a new supply of the eye drops you need. Need a professional opinion? Contact us at See Eye Clinic in Winnipeg. Book your appointment for your next eye exam today!

Written by See Eye Clinic

Dr. Smith-Bodiroga established See Eye Clinic in the summer of 2015 with a big vision: to offer thorough patient care using optometric expertise and diagnostic medical technologies.

See Eye Clinic built a stunning eyewear section to ensure everyone has access to a wide selection of glasses to fit their face, style and mood. Every pair of frames in our boutique are hand-picked from premium and independent brands to offer you a look that’s as unique as you.

Book your next eye exam with See Eye Clinic in Winnipeg today!

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