Always Check The ‘Use By’ Date

I have had dry eyes most of my adult life and, as a consequence, there are multiple bottles of eye drops in my home. I have medicated eye drops, artificial tears, drops for allergies, anti-redness drops, drops for people who spend too long on the computer, and multi-purpose drops; if it is for eyes, I’ve got drops for it.  At least, I did until recently.

Woman Touching Eyes from iStock via

A few weeks ago I put in some eye drops and afterwards found that my eyes felt worse instead of better. My eyelids were dry and felt somehow uncomfortable. I looked at the bottle of drops I had used and realized with surprise that the drops had passed their “Use By” date long ago. So, I threw them out. I thought that was that. It was just an old bottle. Nothing to worry about.

I put some moisturizer on my eyelids and at night, for good measure, I put on some Nivea Q10 that had been in my bathroom miscellany collection for who-knows-how-long. By this time you are probably thinking, “What is the matter with this woman? Doesn’t she know better than to keep old medications lying around?” Well, apparently I don’t know better and that is partly because I don’t think of eyedrops and creams as medications. That’s where I went wrong.

A few days later, I once again put in some eye drops and became alarmed at the outcome. This picture will show you what I saw.


My eyelids became red and dry with some blister-like eruptions, and they itched like crazy. I did not know what to do, and since I am on vacation and nowhere near my doctor I could not ask for her advice. So, of course, I went online. I know you aren’t supposed to ask Google for medical advice, but I did it anyway.

That’s where I found images of eyes that looked a lot like mine, and I found out that the condition is called contact dermatitis. Apparently, it can be caused by eye drops, even non-expired eye drops!  Who knew? It seems I have suddenly developed an allergy that had not presented itself before.

With this knowledge, I took myself to the nearest pharmacy and spoke with the pharmacist there. After she looked at my eyes she recommended that I see a doctor. When I explained that I was a visitor, she said that the best she could do was to sell me some antihistamine eye drops to counteract the itch.

I had learned from the internet that one remedy is to use some steroid cream, and when I asked the pharmacist about that she looked alarmed. She said, “No, no! That will make your eyelids brown. It would go away eventually but it might take ten years.” Oh my, my. Maybe I read the treatment advice online incorrectly, or maybe it wasn’t for eyes. I don’t know. In any case, I trusted the pharmacist more than whoever wrote what I read online.

Eye Drops and Ointment from Lynn Grayling via

When I got home, I emailed my travel insurance provider and asked them about seeing a doctor. They replied with a number for me to call if it was an emergency, I didn’t think this was an emergency, so I didn’t call. Then I put those new drops in my eyes and immediately felt a whole lot better.

I have now spent twenty-four hours putting nothing on my eyelids except an ice pack and putting only the antihistamine drops in my eyes. The redness and swelling have gone down and the itch has gone away, so I seem to be on the road to recovery.

This morning, I looked in my nightstand drawer and found five expired bottles of drops. Five! They are now in the trash. I don’t know if my problem was because the drops I used were old or not. I just want to be on the safe side. I also don’t know if the Q10 played a role or was just a red herring.

I wish I knew what it is in the drops that I have become allergic to because I will continue to have dry eyes, and I need to avoid whatever it is. Until I figure that out, I’m staying away from eye drops–completely!

You see, I can learn. It just takes something dramatic to teach me.




  1. The problem could be the preservative in the eye drops. I’ve noticed drops for dry eyes without preservatives. That might be a solution.

        1. You’re welcome, Anne. Glad to hear they’re helping. I’ve had problems with my eyes being irritated from one thing or another for years. I have a variety of eye drops: decongestant/antihistamine drops and drops for dry eyes (regular and preservative-free). When those two don’t work, I have steroid eye drops (prescription from the doctor). If my allergies get really bad during the spring I have another type of antihistamine eye drops called Pataday (prescription). I find as I get older I have more problems with dry eyes.

  2. I can’t speak for everyone, but the last thing on my mind was “What is the matter with this woman? Doesn’t she know better than to keep old medications lying around?” Don’t we all, or at least most of us, do that? …especially with things like moisturizing eye drops. Glad you’ve found some healing and relief though!

  3. Hi there. I have been an ophthalmic tech for over 30 years so have seen quite a few irritated eyes with the doctors I have worked for. Although it is quite possible you could have developed a sensitivity to preservatives, it isn’t likely, especially if you never had it before. And God knows I have bottles of artificial tears that have expired dates, although not far out. That in itself is not a problem if the bottle is sealed and never been used. But if you do open it, because the preservative is expired-which is what the expiration date is really all about-the drops won’t be protected against possible bacteria which can now grow on the surface and tip of the applicator or be introduced into the contents. I’m glad you are on the mend. It is very wise to toss out any drops that are expired. And if your symptoms do not fully improve or worsen, you should definitely see a doctor. Sometimes a full recovery might require an anti inflammatory drop treatment. I try to use PF tears when possible simply because they are more convenient and travel well. Good luck!

    1. That is very helpful. Thank you so much, dweezer19. The redness and swelling have gone down and the only remaining issue is that my eyelids feel unusually dry. However, that is improving, too. Your advice is much appreciated.

  4. My goodness. What a scare you had! I’m so glad you’re on the mend — and so grateful you shared your experience with your readers. I won’t ever be cavalier about my eye drops again. Take good care, and hope you’re back to 100% by now.

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