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  • Writer's pictureAtanas Bogoev M.D. and Maria Cholakova

Can You Use Old Eye Drops?

Whether for dry eyes, redness, or ocular conditions, eye drops are the most common way of treating the eyes. But what if you find a forgotten bottle hiding in your drawer, past its expiration date? The big question is: Can you use old eye drops safely? What if they haven't been opened? And what are the health risks of using old eye drops? Read on to learn more.

What You Need to Know about Old Eye Drops

Can Eye Drops Get Old/Expire?

Yes, eye drops can expire. Find the expiration date on the packaging. Patients should strictly adhere to it. Over time, the efficacy of the active ingredients in the eye drops can diminish. Using expired eye drops may not provide the intended relief or treatment. In some cases, it may irritate the eyes or cause eye problems.

What is the Eye Drops Shelf-Life?

When is it Unsafe to Use Eye Drops Anymore?

Why Do Ocular Drops Expire?

How to Recognize if Eye Drops Have Gone Bad?

Eyedrops expiration date label on the back of the bottle

Outlining the Eye Health Dangers of Old Eye Drops

Preservative Eye Drops

Eye drops may include preservatives to keep bacterial growth at bay. They are safe to use while they are still in date. After their expiration, old eye drops are no longer effective and may become susceptible to contaminants.

Meaning, that if you use them, you will not get the relief or benefits you seek. What's more, you might even put yourself at risk of an eye infection, allergy, or inflammation by bacteria or fungi.

Preservative-Free Eye Drops

Some individuals may be sensitive to preservatives, experiencing irritation or allergic reactions. So preservative-free eye drops are a go-to for people with sensitive eyes or those who use them frequently.

Sometimes they come in single-dose vials to prevent contamination, making them safer for long-term use. But again, no longer than the expiration date.

Once opened, preservative-free eye drops are much easier to contaminate as they don't contain preservatives to stop fungi or bacterial growth.

old eye drops

Potential Eye Problems of Using Old Eye Drops

  • Dry eye syndrome: Insufficient tear production or poor tear quality. Expired artificial tears or lubricating eye drops may lose their moisturizing properties. It can exacerbate dry eye symptoms, including irritation, burning, and a gritty sensation.

  • Fungal keratitis: A cornea infection, covering the front of the eye. It can cause pain, redness, blurry vision, sensitivity to light, and eye discharge. The cause is fungi growing in improperly stored or old eye drops.

  • Corneal damage: Corneal abrasions or other injuries to the cornea. A common cause is changes in the pH or chemical composition of expired eye drops. Symptoms are stinging sensations, grittiness, watery eyes, redness, swollen eyelids, and photophobia.

  • Allergic conjunctivitis: An inflammation of the conjunctiva, responsible for the protection of the inner eyelids and the white part of the eye. Signs are itching, redness, tearing, and discharge. A potential trigger may be an allergic reaction to the preservatives in eye drops.

  • Bacterial conjunctivitis: An infection of the conjunctiva caused by bacteria. Symptoms include redness, swelling, pain, discharge, and eyelid crusting. Transmission happens when using contaminated eye drops or touching the eye with dirty hands or objects.

  • Antibiotic resistance: Certain antibiotics become long-term ineffective. Antibiotic resistance happens when a patient is using expired antibiotic eye drops excessively. The condition complicates future treatment of some eye infections.

  • Acanthamoeba keratitis: A rare but severe infection of the cornea by a microscopic parasite -Acanthamoeba. Causes severe pain, redness, blurry vision, photophobia, and excessive tearing. People can contract it by using compromised old eye drops or contact lens solutions.

  • Glaucoma: The most common cause of blindness in the modern world, related to high intraocular pressure. When overusing old steroid eye drops the pressure in the eye may increase, which in rare instances may induce glaucoma. Early symptoms are a gradual loss of peripheral vision, headache, hazy vision, and halos around lights.

Old Eye Drops: Safety Tips

  1. Check the expiry date

  2. Read the manufacturer's instructions

  3. Provide proper storage conditions

  4. Keep the container away from sunlight and high temperatures

  5. Avoid contamination

  6. Avoid sharing eye drop bottles with others

Always check the expiration date on the packaging before using eye drops. Discard any drops that have passed their expiration date. Read the label and instructions, because sometimes eye drops expire over a certain time after opening.

Proper storage maintains the effectiveness of eye drops. Store them according to the directions on the package—usually at room temperature and away from direct sunlight. If you notice changes in the coloration or consistency of the ocular drops, they are probably old enough to dispose of.

Keep good hygiene. Do not touch the tip of the eye drop container with your fingers, as this can introduce bacteria. Recap the bottle immediately after use. Last but not least, avoid sharing eye drops with others to prevent the spread of infection.

If the eye drops are old but still before their expiration, read the manufacturer's instructions for use. Make sure your old eye drops are still safe by consulting your eye doctor or pharmacist before using them!
If you have unused eye drops that have expired, dispose of them properly. These eye drops are no longer safe and effective, even if you haven't opened them yet.

Checked by Atanas Bogoev, MD.

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