Yes! Eye drops do expire, and should not be used after the expiration date listed on the label. Otherwise, they can be harmful to your ocular health.

But why aren’t expired eye drops safe? Let’s go over how long eye drops last, the importance of their expiration dates, and the effects of using expired eye drops (which, again, you should not do!). 

Why Do Eye Drops Expire? 

Eye drops include chemical substances that help treat various eye conditions, and these ingredients can lose their effectiveness over time. For that reason, and due to contamination concerns, eye drops have an expiration date.

Never forget to check the expiration date of the eye drops you use. Once expired, the drops should be disposed of so you don’t continue using them accidentally. 

How Long Do Eye Drops Last?

Many (but not all) types of eye drops will stay safe to use for approximately 1 to 2 years if they’re unopened. However, you should always cease using eye drops in accordance with the expiration date or the manufacturer’s instructions.

Some eye drops should be thrown away after a certain number of days (or even hours) after you open the bottle, while other drops can last an extended period of time. Eye drops with shorter shelf-lives are typically the ones packaged in small, individual vials without preservatives. 

Because each kind of eye drop is a little different, how long they last will vary. Check the instructions on the bottle for guidance on ideal storage conditions, as these also impact how long eye drops can last. (Certain eye drops require refrigeration, for example.) If you don’t store the drops correctly, they can expire even faster.  

Can You Use Expired Eye Drops?

No! Using expired eye drops is never a good idea. Like any medication, eye drops should be discarded when they’ve expired because they likely won’t provide the treatment you need. 

Expired eye drops can also become contaminated if the bottle has been opened. Although many eye drops contain preservatives, the protection they offer from bacterial growth weakens as time goes on, and may not be reliable once the expiration date passes. 

You may be thinking, “Can I use unopened expired eye drops, at least?” Again, this is a bad idea. You shouldn’t use eye drops after the expiration date, whether the bottle is opened or not, due to the loss of the medication’s effectiveness over time.

What Happens if You Use Expired Eye Drops? 

If you use expired drops, there are two main consequences you have to worry about:

  • Loss of potency: The active ingredients within eye drops may have degraded and lost some or all of their effectiveness. The drops therefore may not be able to treat the targeted eye condition, or will only partially work. Unfortunately, partial treatment can make some eye problems last longer (or even get worse).  
  • Contamination: Eye drops contain preservatives that typically limit germs from growing around or within them. But the longer the bottle is open, the higher the chance that bacteria can gain a foothold in or around the eye drops, bottle, or dropper tool. This bacteria can cause several issues for your eyes, including redness, irritation, and eye infection.

Where Can You Find The Expiration Date On Eye Drops?

For most eye drops, the expiration date can be found on the bottom or back of the bottle. If you can’t find the date or can’t read it, just play it safe: Throw the drops away and purchase new ones. 

An illustration of a bottle of eye drops with the location of the expiration date labeled.

What Should I Do With Expired Eye Drops?

Always dispose of expired eye drops, but be sure to do so safely. Because eye drops include many chemicals in their formulas, it’s necessary to keep them out of reach of children or anyone who might use the drops incorrectly.  

Eye drops that aren’t properly disposed of can also hurt the environment by contaminating water supplies or poisoning local animals that ingest them. To avoid all of these scenarios, squeeze the content completely from the bottle and rinse out the bottle of expired drops before recycling it or placing it in a covered trash container. 

Never Use Expired Drops—Get a New Bottle Instead

It may seem convenient to use old, expired eye drops, but doing so can lead to problems that might turn out worse than the one you bought the drops for initially. Rather than take the risk, get a fresh bottle of eye drops to treat your ocular concerns, and always book an eye exam to address new or worsening symptoms. 

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