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What Happens If You Use Expired Eye Drops?

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Regular eye exams are crucial for maintaining eye health and clear, comfortable vision. For some, these exams might reveal the need for eye drops as a daily companion. These drops can be a saving grace for those with dry eyes, providing much-needed moisture.

But what would happen if you accidentally used expired eye drops? While it’s best to use them before the date on the bottle, a single accidental use likely won’t cause harm. The bigger concern is that expired drops might not work, leaving your dry eyes feeling the same. There’s also a slight chance the drops could become contaminated over time, even if unopened, potentially leading to an eye infection.

Uses of Eye Drops

Eye drops have many uses in eye care. Your eye doctor may use them during a diabetic eye exam to dilate your pupils and allow for a thorough examination of the back of the eye. They’re also often prescribed after eye surgery to prevent infection and aid healing. 

Many kinds of eye drops are also available for dry eyes, providing much-needed lubrication and relief from discomfort. These may be used regularly or as needed, depending on the severity of your symptoms.

Eye Drops & Expiration Dates

The expiration date on your eye drops is not just a suggestion—it’s a safety measure. Eye drop manufacturers set expiration dates after testing to determine how long the product will remain stable, remain effective, and, most importantly, not pose a risk to your eye health. 

They may check the degradation of active ingredients in the eye drops over time, factoring in conditions like temperature, humidity, and light exposure, all of which can accelerate the breakdown of compounds. After the expiration date, discard the drops to be safe. 

Risks of Using Expired Eye Drops

Always check the expiration dates of eye drops before using them. Expired eye drops could lead to a range of side effects.


One of the most common issues with expired eye drops is their reduced efficacy. You may find they don’t relieve your symptoms as they should, leaving you with dry, itchy, or red eyes when you thought you were getting relief.

Contamination & Eye Infections

Beyond the inconvenience of underperforming eye drops, there’s a more serious issue—the risk of an eye infection. Eye drops are a liquid, and when used past their use-by date, bacteria and fungi can grow within the bottle. 

When these contaminants enter your eyes, you open the door to potential inflammation and infections. Symptoms of an eye infection can range from mild irritation to pain, redness, blurred vision, discomfort, or discharge.   

Safety & Efficacy of Eye Drops

Here are some measures you can take to make sure your eye drops are safe and effective.

Check the Bottle

Before use, always inspect your eye drop bottle. If there is no expiration date or the date has rubbed off, return the eye drops and refill your prescription with a new bottle. 

Also, check the eye drops for colour, consistency, or odour changes. If the eye drops are cloudy or contain visible particles, do not use the eye drops. 

A patient listening attentively to her optometrist who is showing his findings.

Talk to Your Optometrist

If you’re unsure if your eye drops are safe, talk to your optometrist. They can help determine if an expired bottle is suitable for use or if you need a replacement.

Follow the Instructions

Instructions on eye drop packaging are there for maximum safety and effectiveness. Be sure to use your eye drops as directed by the manufacturer or your eye doctor.

Proper Handling, Storage & Disposal of Eye Drops

Proper storage and disposal are vital to maintaining eye drops’ effectiveness and safety.

Handling of Eye Drops

Always use clean hands when handling eye drops to avoid contaminating them. Also, avoid touching the dropper tip on surfaces when putting eye drops in your eyes, such as your eyelid or face. 

Storage of Eye Drops

Eye drops are sensitive to environmental factors like heat, light, and air. If eye drops don’t need to be refrigerated, store them in a cool, dark place and sealed when not in use. 

Avoid common pitfalls like storing drops in the bathroom or kitchen, where it’s too warm or exposed to direct sunlight.

Disposal of Eye Drops

When it’s time to get rid of old drops, discard leftover eye drops and don’t keep them for later use. Check with the manufacturers or your community guidelines for medication disposal. 

Personalized Guidance on Using Eye Drops

Your eye health is too important to gamble with expired medications. Checking the expiration dates and storage guidelines for eye drops can help you avoid unnecessary discomfort when you need relief. If you experience changes to your vision while using eye drops, book an appointment with Southwood Eyecare for personalized guidance and recommended alternatives.

Written by Dr. Shmyla Chaudhery

Dr. Shmyla Chaudhery was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She obtained a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Manitoba and later completed the Doctor of Optometry program at Illinois College of Optometry graduating with Magna Cum Laude honours. Dr. Chaudhery is also a member of the Beta Sigma Kappa International Optometric Honor Society and the Tomb and Key Honor Fraternity. She has experience with pediatric eye exams, ocular disease, specialty contact lenses, and vision therapy. During her spare time, she enjoys playing badminton and spending time with her husband and kids.
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