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Can you use expired eye drops?

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Image of a head being laid down while a small bottle of eye drops is held above the eye with a drop ready to fall.

Can You Use Expired Eye Drops?

Whether it’s for dry eyes or pink eye, eye drops can benefit your eyes when used safely. If you have an older bottle of eye drops, can you still use them? 

Continue reading to learn more about eye drops, including if you can continue to use an expired bottle. 

Eye Drops Can Help Your Eyes in Many Ways

Eye drops have many different uses in the optometry field today. They typically feature a saline base and help keep your eyes lubricated and protected. Many optometrists use eye drops as medication for different conditions. 

Your optometrist may use eye drops for the following purposes

Eye Exams

Your optometrist may use eye drops during a comprehensive eye exam. There are 2 main reasons to do this: 

  • To dilate your pupils for easier examination of your eye’s structures
  • To temporarily numb the surface of your eyes while they look for signs of glaucoma 

Cataract Surgery

Cataracts can affect your ability to see clearly, and surgery is typically required to treat this condition. Your doctor typically uses eye drops during cataract surgery to make your pupil bigger, numb the treatment area, and prevent infection. 

Conjunctivitis Treatment

Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is a condition that irritates your eyes. It is contagious and may require treatment if it doesn’t resolve naturally. Your optometrist may prescribe antibiotic eye drops if you have a viral or bacterial infection.  

Dry Eyes

Dry eye disease can occur for several reasons, leaving you with irritated and stinging eyes. There are both over-the-counter and prescription eye drops available to help provide moisture. Your eye doctor can determine the best eye drops suited for your needs. 

Eye Allergies

Eye drops can help when you’re experiencing itchy eyes, tearing, redness, or another symptom of an allergic reaction. Some possible types of eye drops include: 

Eye drops have many uses both in-office and at home. If you have over-the-counter or prescription eye drops at home, can you continue to use them after they expire? 

Image of two dropper bottles with green blurred background, left one has its lid unscrewed and is laying on the table sideways, while the right one is upright with lid screwed on.

Can You Use Expired Eye Drops?

While eye drops are generally safe, you shouldn’t use them when they expire. They lose their effectiveness, and there’s a greater risk of infection. 

Eye drops should stay safe until they reach their expiration date when stored and used correctly. However, there is a concern for bacteria growth once the seal to your eye drops breaks. Many eye drops contain preservatives to help slow bacteria growth and protect against infection, but complications can arise if the dropper touches another surface. 

Always Check When Your Eye Drops Expire

Knowing when your eye drops expire can remind you to replace them with a more effective and safe bottle. Always check the expiration date before using your over-the-counter or prescription eye drops. 

Listen to Your Optometrist’s Advice

Your eye drops should be safe to use until the expiry date but listen to your eye doctor’s advice. Depending on the type of eye drops you have, you may need to follow specific instructions for storage and use. Some drops need to stay at room temperature, while others require refrigeration. 

If your eye drops are preservative-free, you’ll need to use them carefully to avoid bacteria growth. You should generally throw this type of eye drops away 24 hours after opening them. 

Eye drops are effective when they’re safe to use and sterile. You should always check the expiry date of your eye drops if you’re unsure and avoid any contact with the dropper. A contaminated dropper can lead to potential infections. 

Eye Drop Safety Tips 

Ensure you’re using your eye drops correctly if you have any at home. Your eye drops can potentially pick up bacteria if used without caution. No matter the type of eye drops you have, there are safety tips you can follow to avoid complications. 

Use Your Eye Drops Properly 

Administering eye drops is pretty straightforward, but you can effectively use them while avoiding contamination. Begin by tilting your head back while pulling your lower eyelid down with your fingers. Doing this with your eyelid helps create a pouch to catch the liquid coming from the dropper. 

Gently squeeze the dropper to let a drop of liquid into the created pouch. Close your eye for 30 to 60 seconds to let the fluid absorb. 

There are a few other tips you can follow when using eye drops. These tips include: 

  • Washing your hands before & after using eye drops 
  • Ensuring the dropper is clean & doesn’t touch your eye, eyelid, eyelashes, or another surface
  • Replacing the dropper if it touches another surface
  • Checking the expiration date of your eye drops 
  • Waiting at least 5 minutes between uses if you have 2 or more types of eye drops

Eye Drop Safety Don’ts 

There are ways you can help protect your eyes while using eye drops: 

  • Don’t use eye drops while wearing contact lenses unless approved by your optometrist
  • Don’t share your eye drops with anyone else to avoid potential infection

These are general guidelines to follow but always listen to your eye doctor’s advice. There are many eye drops, and you may have specific instructions to follow depending on the medication. 

Eye Drops Can Benefit Your Eyes When Used Safely 

Eye drops can help your eyes in many ways, but only when they work effectively. Don’t use your eye drops after they expire, and always follow your eye doctor’s advice. If you have any questions about eye drops, contact your optometrist today

Written by Luis Marquez

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