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What Happens If You Use Expired Eye Drops?

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A woman holding a small bottle of eye drops in her right hand and putting them on her right eye.

Eye drops are among the various treatments your eye doctor may prescribe for vision problems such as dry eye. However, as with any medicinal product, eye drops have expiry dates. 

Always consult your eye doctor or have an eye exam to determine which eye drops to use and follow their instructions for safely using eye drops to maintain eye health. The risks of using expired eye drops can include:

  • Contamination
  • Infection
  • Irritation
  • Reduced effectiveness

Eye Drops & Expiry Dates

Eye drops, like other medicinal products, are used to treat eye problems and have manufacturer expiry dates printed on their packaging. While you may be able to tell if some products are past their shelf life, eye drops don’t have signals to indicate they’re expired beyond the date on the package. 

Those expiry dates mark when the manufacturer can guarantee the product’s safety and full potency. After this date has passed, its effectiveness may decrease, or more alarmingly, the fluid might become unsafe as contamination creeps in.

Types of Eye Drops

Various types of eye drops are available and have specific uses for different eye conditions:

  • Lubricating eye drops: These eye drops provide relief from dryness and discomfort caused by dry eye, environmental factors, or prolonged screen time.
  • Antihistamine eye drops: These drops are designed to alleviate symptoms of allergies, such as redness, itching, and watering.
  • Antibiotic eye drops: These eye drops treat bacterial eye infections such as conjunctivitis (pink eye).
  • Steroid eye drops: These eye drops treat inflammation or allergic reactions in the eyes.
  • Glaucoma eye drops: These eye drops help reduce pressure in the eyes and help fluid drain from the eye. 

Before using any eye drops, consult your eye doctor, especially if you have existing medical conditions or are taking other medications. They can recommend eye drops specific to your needs and guide you on proper usage and storage. Understanding expiry dates and following proper usage guidelines is crucial in maintaining healthy eyes and preserving our vision.

Potential Risks of Using Expired Eye Drops

Using eye drops is a precise science; it isn’t about merely wetting the eyes. They are used to remedy specific concerns, from dryness to infections, and they need to work effectively. Here are potential risks of using expired eye drops:

  • Reduced effectiveness: After expiry, the active ingredients in eye drops can degrade, making the drops less effective. Losing efficacy might not relieve your symptoms, leading to prolonged discomfort.
  • Risk of contamination and infection: Over time the preservatives that keep eye drops sterile may break down, allowing bacteria to flourish. Introducing contaminated eye drops into your eyes can lead to painful infections and, in some cases, adversely affect your vision.
  • Allergic reactions and irritation: As ingredients degrade, the delicate balance of the solution can change and might cause unexpected allergic reactions or irritation, making matters worse rather than providing relief.

Symptoms of Using Expired Eye Drops

Our eyes are delicate and can react to even the slightest irritation. For this reason, monitor your symptoms when using eye drops. Here are some symptoms that might indicate a problem with the eye drops: 

  • Sudden redness or itchiness. These are common signs of an allergic reaction, possibly from expired ingredients in the eye drops.
  • Prolonged discomfort. If your symptoms do not improve or worsen after using eye drops, it could be due to their reduced effectiveness.
  • Unusual discharge. If you notice any unusual discharge from your eyes, it could indicate an infection caused by contaminated eye drops.

If you experience these or worsening symptoms, stop using the eye drops immediately and seek your eye doctor’s advice. 

Tips for Proper Eye Drop Usage & Storage

Here are some things to consider for the safe use of eye drops:

  • Check the expiry dates before applying eye drops, and discard any past their prime.
  • Follow the storage instructions on the eye drop package. Most should be kept at room temperature, away from direct sunlight. Some eye drops may require refrigeration.
  • Avoid sharing eye drops. Eye drops are meant for individual use only to prevent cross-contamination. 
  • Follow usage instructions. Most manufacturers recommend you stop using eye drops 28 days after opening. 
  • Wash your hands before and after using eye drops. 
  • Avoid contact with the dropper tip to prevent contamination.
A man in an optometry clinic shaking hands with his female optometrist.

Guidance on Safe Eye Drop Usage

While it’s tempting to keep using the same bottle of eye drops even after it expires or squeeze the last ounce out of a bottle, the risks to your eye health outweigh the costs of being frugal. Avoid using expired eye drops as they can cause more harm than good. 

At Mint Eyecare we carry preservative-free artificial tears which are shown to cause less irritation for dry eyes. If you’re unsure about over-the-counter eye drops or experience changes to your vision while using your current eye drops, stop using them and book an appointment with Mint Eyecare for further guidance.

Written by Mint Eyecare

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