Can You Use Expired Eye Drops? Eye Doctor Explains

Eye drops are a common solution for individuals experiencing dry eyes, irritation, or infection. However, the question arises: can you use expired eye drops, and what are the consequences of doing so?

Can You Use Expired Eye Drops: Understanding Expiration Dates

The expiration date on eye drops is an essential aspect to ensure the safety and efficacy of the product. Eye drops, as with any medication, can undergo chemical changes after the expiration date, which may reduce their effectiveness or even become harmful to your eyes.

Using eye drops past the expiration date can result in unwanted side effects, and hence, it is crucial to adhere to the stated expiration date.

Shelf Life 

Shelf life refers to the length of time during which a product remains effective and safe for use when stored correctly. An eye drop’s shelf life can be affected by factors such as exposure to air, humidity, or being stored at temperatures outside the recommended range. 

Keep in mind that the shelf life may change once the eye drops are opened since their exposure to air and potential contaminants increases, which may shorten their shelf life. Some eye drops may need to be discarded after a specific period (e.g., three months) following opening, regardless of the expiration date.

Storage Conditions

The proper storage conditions are vital to preserving the integrity of the eye drops. Improper storage is a risk factor for the chemical compounds in the drops being disrupted.

Most eye drops should be stored at room temperature, away from direct sunlight and high heat. It is essential to follow the manufacturer’s storage recommendations to ensure the eye drops retain their quality.

Proper storage not only helps maintain the efficacy of the eye drops but also minimizes the risk of contamination. 

Can You Use Expired Eye Drops: What Are The Risks?

There are several risks for using a bottle of eye drops that is past its expiry date. 

Potential For Bacterial Growth

Using expired eye drops carries a risk of contamination and eye infection. Over time, bacterial growth may occur in the bottle, especially if it has been previously opened. This can lead to bacterial infections when the contaminated eye drops are used. Opened bottles of eye drops should only be used for the amount of time specified by the manufacturer to minimize the risk of contamination1.

Decreased Effectiveness

Expired eye drops can become less effective over time1. This is due to the degradation of active ingredients, which may, in turn, lead to suboptimal treatment of the eye condition they were intended for. 

Consequently, relying on expired eye drops for treating eye problems may result in prolonged or worsening symptoms.

Consequences For Eye Health

Using expired eye drops may have serious consequences for eye health. Some potential risks include:

  • Eye irritation — Expired eye drops may cause redness, discomfort, and irrition.
  • Vision problems — Ineffective eye drops can fail to treat or worsen existing eye conditions, potentially leading to further vision problems.
  • Bacterial infections — Bacterial growth in expired eye drops can result in infections, which may require medical intervention to avoid long-term damage.

Can You Use Expired Eye Drops: Maximizing Safety

Whether its antibiotic eye drops or artificial tears in single-use vials, there are some general guidelines for maximizing safety when it comes to using eye medications.

Proper Eye Drop Use

First, it is always a good idea to wash your hands before handling the eye drop container. It is also important to avoid touching the tip of the bottle with your fingers or to your eye’s surface. You do not want the tip of the eye drop to become contaminated as this could encourage the growth of bacteria.

Read The Package Insert

There are specific instructions on the package insert that should explain where you should store your eye drops. If keeping them in a medicine cabinet make sure that the temperature is correct for storing that specific drop. Different brands have different storage requirements in terms of temperature.

The package insert may also have general guidelines on what you should do within a certain number of days of opening the drops. This means that some unopened eye drops may have an expiry date on them that is years in the future. However, once you open them, you may only be able to use them for a much smaller amount of time. 

See An Eye Doctor

If you have any concern or you have already used an expired medication, it is a good idea to see your eye doctor. While it is not common, there have been reports of serious infections from eye drops. Most of these were over the counter products that had contamination. Your local pharmacy may also be able to provide some guidance. Most of the recalls for eye drops recently however were not from expiration, but rather from contamination. But any eye drop that is expired is at higher risk for contamination and bacterial infection in general. 

Do Not Ignore Symptoms

If you experience any side effects, such as blurry vision, pain, or irritation, consult a doctor, ideally an eye doctor, as soon as possible. Vision loss is rare from expired eye drops but it is possible. There have even been reported deaths from some eye drops. Although very uncommon, if you have any symptoms from eye redness to blurry vision, get specific advice from an eye doctor. 

Get New Medications

The most common health risk associated with using expired eye drops is that your eye drops are not as effective as they could be. Regardless of the type of eye drop, all eye drops will lose some effectivity after their expiry date. 

If you have an infection and are using antibiotic drops that have expired, then your eye infection may not be treated properly. Or if you have ocular hypertension (high eye pressure), and your eye pressure lowering drops are not working, then you can have damage to the eye. 

Medical products are intended to be used before their expiration date. Getting a new bottle of medication for proper disease control is important. If you have any concerns get professional medical advice from an eye care expert. 

What Will Happen If You Use Expired Eye Drops?

The reality is that for most patients using an expired eye drop will result in no consequences. However, there will be some patients who could have health problems just from using a single drop of expired medication. The worst cases reported have caused serious health problems. 

In addition to avoiding expired eye drops, it’s also important to stay aware of any eye drop recalls. In 2023, Ezricare artificial tears were recalled due to contamination. Although contamination is different from expiration, using old expired eye drops after a long time puts you at a much higher risk of contamination. 

Whether they are over the counter drops or antibiotic drops for cataract surgery, don’t use eye drops past their expiration date and be sure to store them correctly. 

Can You Use Expired Eye Drops: Summary

Using expired eye drops, especially when wearing contact lenses or relying on prescription eye drops for conditions like red eyes or eye dryness, can lead to significant risks. Types of eye drops, including preservative-free eye drops and those designed for contact lens solutions, have a universal length of expiration to ensure the safety, efficacy, and sterility of the product. 

The American Academy of Ophthalmology emphasizes the importance of adhering to these dates, as expired drops can undergo chemical breakdown, changing color or losing their effectiveness over time. For individuals using multi-use eye drop bottles, it’s crucial to note the date of manufacture and keep them in their original packaging to maintain the sterile seal of the bottle. 

If you experience irritation of the eyes or other adverse symptoms from using expired eye drops, consulting a healthcare provider or undergoing a comprehensive eye exam is a good way to assess treatment options and ensure overall eye health.

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