(587) 327-9493
Blog Hero

Can You Use Expired Eye Drops?

Book Your Appointment
Eye drops label indicating the expiration date.

Have you ever wondered why your eye drops come with an expiration date? It’s not a meaningless number. Expired eye drops could do more harm than good. But why do eye drops expire?

The shelf life of eye drops varies depending on their formulation. But no matter what kind you’re using, expired eye drops are no longer sterile and can cause irritation or infection.

Eye drops can be an easy and effective solution to many common eye issues, but you should consult your optometrist before putting any product in your eyes.

What Are the Different Types of Eye Drops?

Eye drops come in different formulations and types, making it essential to know which eye drops are right for you and your symptoms.

Artificial Tears

Artificial tears mimic natural tears and help lubricate the eyes, reducing dryness and irritation. They’re often recommended for dry eyes caused by computer use, contact lenses, meibomian gland dysfunction, and the environment

Sometimes called lubricating eye drops, these drops come with both preservatives and preservative-free formulas. Preservatives often make these drops last longer, but the preservatives can cause irritation. Preservative-free drops are easier on sensitive eyes but don’t last as long. 

Antibiotic Eye Drops

Optometrists prescribe antibiotic eye drops to fight bacterial eye infections such as conjunctivitis (pink eye) and corneal ulcers. They must be used correctly and consistently to avoid resistance to medication. Most antibiotic eye drops only last a couple days to a month after opening. Every medication is different. 

Anti-Allergy Eye Drops

Anti-allergy eye drops are designed to prevent allergies from making your eyes itchy and watery. These drops contain antihistamines, which stop histamines from causing allergic reactions. You can buy them without a prescription, and they come in options with or without preservatives.

Why Do Eye Drops Expire?

Unlike the food in your pantry with best-before dates, expiry dates are the cut-off date when the manufacturer can guarantee the drops’ safety and effectiveness. Beyond that date, the eye drops can pose a risk to your eyes.

Lose Effectiveness

Eye drops expire mainly because they lose their effectiveness over time. The active ingredients in eye drops can break down and become less potent. This means that expired eye drops may not provide the same level of relief as fresh ones do.

Bacteria Growth

The preservatives in eye drops also break down over time, which can lead to bacteria growth, especially after opening the bottle. Using expired eye drops can increase the risk of infection or irritation to the eye.

A prescription eye drop solution bottle with an expiration date is placed on a blank prescription pad against a white background.

How to Help Your Eye Drops Last

Some ways you can help maximize the lifespan of your eye drops include:

  • Storing your eye drops in a cool, dry place.
  • Keeping your eye drops away from direct sunlight.
  • Practicing good hand hygiene when putting in eye drops.

It’s essential to clean your hands and practice good eye drop use to prevent cross-contamination from introducing harmful bacteria to the bottle.

Preservatives vs. Preservative-Free

Not all eye drops have the same expiration date. Some eye drops are preservative-free and are designed for single-use only. These drops typically have a shorter shelf life and should be discarded after one use. Multi-use eye drops can usually be used for several weeks after opening as long as they are correctly stored and have not expired.

So, how do you know if your eye drops have expired? Look for the expiration date printed on the packaging or bottle. If it has already passed, it’s time to toss them out. You should also discard eye drops that appear cloudy, discoloured, or have particles floating in them. These are signs that bacteria growth may have occurred, and the eye drops are no longer safe to use.

Support Healthy Eyes with Regular Eye Exams

Eye drops can help soothe symptoms of discomfort and irritation, but a visit to your optometrist can help uncover the cause of your symptoms and identify the proper treatment for long-term relief. Schedule an eye exam with River Heights Eye Care to support your vision, maintain eye health, and preserve comfort.

Written by Shazeen Manji

Dr. Shazeen Manji was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, and attended the University of Alberta, where she completed her Bachelor of Science degree. She then went on to earn her optometry degree at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry at Salus University, where she graduated with honours. Dr. Manji received her training in a vast array of clinical settings, including private practices and Veterans Affairs hospitals, where she focused on pediatrics and contact lenses. Though she enjoys all aspects of private practice, Dr. Manji has a particular interest in ocular disease and contact lenses. She completed her ocular disease externship at the Wilmington V.A. Hospital and has completed an advanced studies course in contact lenses, giving her unique insight into fitting specialty contact lenses. In 2019, Dr. Manji purchased River Heights Eye Care where she is now practicing.
instagram facebook facebook2 pinterest twitter google-plus google linkedin2 yelp youtube phone location calendar share2 link star-full star-half star star-half chevron-right chevron-left chevron-down chevron-up envelope fax