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Do Contact Lenses Expire?

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A lady holding up a contact lens on her finger.

Contact lens wearers know how easy it is to lose track of a box of contacts and find some individually wrapped lenses collecting dust. Throwing them away feels wasteful, but accidentally wearing a pair of contact lenses beyond their expiration date can be bad for your eyes. Contact lenses can expire, and wearing them past the manufacturer’s expiration date can put your eye health at risk.

If you’re unsure how long a box of contact lenses has lived in your medicine cabinet, the optometrists at Dr. Jennifer L. Shane & Associates can give you a new prescription and an updated contact lens fitting. We’ll help you order fresh, sterile contact lenses for clearer vision and comfort.

Soft & Rigid Gas Permeable Contact Lenses

The two primary types of contact lenses are soft and rigid gas permeable (RGP) lenses.

When people talk about contact lenses, they typically refer to soft contacts. Soft contact lenses are made of flexible material to rest on the cornea, the dome surface of the eye. They’re more commonly worn and preferred by those who prioritize comfort and flexibility. If you still bounce back and forth between contact lenses and glasses, soft contact lenses are a better choice for discontinuous wear.

However, rigid gas permeable (RGP) lenses, or “hard” contact lenses, can provide sharper, more crisp vision, especially for those with astigmatism. RGP lenses are durable and are designed for regular, ongoing wear.

The difference in design and material of these lenses affect how long they last and when they expire. Learning the healthy longevity of your contact lenses can help you avoid accidentally wearing contact lenses you’ve had for too long.

Do Soft Contact Lenses Expire?

Soft contact lenses don’t exactly expire. However, as they pass their expiration date, they’re at a growing risk of contamination. Your contact lenses come in individual blister packs, sealed with a saline solution to stay sterile. As they pass the expiration date, these packages deteriorate, and the seal starts to break down.

Contact lenses become unwearable if the seal is broken. Once air enters the blister packs, bacteria can grow and form on the lens. The surface of your eye is one of your body’s most permeable membranes, so introducing germs and bacteria into your eyes makes them vulnerable to infection.

The expiration date set by the manufacturer matters. They can only guarantee safety if you wear your contacts by that date.

Do RGP Lenses Expire?

Unlike soft contact lenses, RGP lenses don’t typically need an expiration date, as they’re designed for long-term wear and can last up to 3 years. They’re customized to fit your eye’s unique measurements and aren’t mass-produced. 

Your contact lens prescription may expire before your RGP lenses do.

A person pressing his eyes due to pain.

Can You Wear Expired Contact Lenses?

Reaching for a yogurt past its “best before” date may not be a big deal, but your contact lenses expiration isn’t the same. Your eye health relies on good contact lens practices, including following the manufacturer’s guidelines on expiration dates.

Wearing contact lenses beyond the expiration can put you at a higher risk of developing eye infections, like keratitis. Keratitis is inflammation of the cornea and can occur when germs enter the eye from bad contact lens care habits, over-wearing contacts, or wearing expired lenses.

Viruses, bacteria, and fungi can cause complications to your eye health. Symptoms of eye infections can include:

  • Eye redness
  • Pain around or in the eyes
  • Overwatering of the eyes
  • Discharge from the eyes
  • Decreased vision

If you’re showing signs of an eye infection or are unsure of the health of your contact lenses, book an appointment for an eye exam to get fresh, safe contact lenses.

Why Do Contact Lens Prescriptions Expire?

Optometrists can provide a contact lens prescription valid for up to 1 year. An annual eye exam can help detect minor changes in your vision that you may not have noticed.

A current contact lens exam and prescription can help improve the fit of your contact lenses and the strength of your prescription, so you can get contact lenses that better correct your vision problems.

Get Updated Contact Lenses for Healthy Vision

Dr. Jennifer L. Shane & Associates can help you find the most comfortable contacts with your newest prescription. Throw away the dust-covered contact lenses you don’t remember buying and save your eyes from potential irritation and infection.Schedule an appointment for an updated eye exam and prescription, and we can supply you with new, sterile contact lenses for improved vision and healthier eyes.

Written by Dr. Jennifer Shane

Dr. Jennifer Shane is native to Reno, Nevada. She attended the University of Reno and the University of Las Vegas, Nevada where she received a Bachelor of Science in Economics. During college she began working for an Optometrist that inspired her to study Optometry. She continued her education at the Illinois College of Optometry where she received her Bachelor of Science in Visual Science and Doctorate of Optometry in 1999. Additionally, Dr. Shane completed residency training in Ocular Disease at the Illinois College of Optometry in 2000. Besides seeing patients, Dr. Shane enjoys pickleball, and spending time with her two sons and two pugs.
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