Can You Wear Expired Contacts? Everything You Need to Know about Expired Contact Lenses

contact-lens-expiration

Have you ever been tempted to wear your contact lenses past their expiration date? 

While it might seem harmless to stretch their use for just a little longer (especially if they still look clean and feel comfortable), wearing expired contact lenses can pose serious risks to your eye health.

In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about expired contact lenses — from finding and understanding the expiration date on your contact lenses and the dangers of ignoring it, to practical steps for managing your contact lens care responsibly.

Do Contacts Expire?

Yes, contact lenses do expire, and it’s important to understand why. The materials used in making contact lenses can degrade over time, leading to a loss of their structural integrity. This degradation can affect the lenses’ comfort, fit, and clarity. The packaging that keeps contact lenses sterile and safe also has a limited lifespan. Once the expiration date has passed, the risk of contamination increases significantly. The preservatives in the lens solution can break down over time as well, and this can further compromise the sterility and safety of the lenses.

So, do contact lenses go bad? Absolutely! What’s worse is using expired contact lenses can pose serious risks to your eye health. These risks include eye infections, irritation, and even damage to your cornea.

Manufacturers typically include an expiration date on the contact lens packaging to ensure that wearers use the lenses while they are still safe and effective. Ignoring these dates can lead to discomfort and potential harm, so always check the expiration date on your contact lenses.

Where Can I Find the Contact Lens Expiration Date?

contact-lens-expiration-on-box

Finding the expiration date on your contact lens packaging is straightforward. Simply look for the date printed on the box or the individual blister packs that hold each lens. The contact lens expiration date is usually labeled as “EXP” followed by the month and year.

For example, “EXP 05/2024” means the lenses should not be used after May 2024. Always check the contact lens expiration before using your lenses to ensure they are still within the safe usage period.
Note that the expiration date can also be in this format sometimes: YYYY-MM (e.g., 2016-06). Also, always double-check that you’re looking at the actual lens expiration date as it can be easy to confuse with the date the contacts were manufactured (manufacture date).

Do Contact Lens Prescriptions Expire?

Yes, contact lens prescriptions do expire, typically within one to two years from the date of your eye exam. This expiration is not arbitrary. It is crucial for ensuring your eye health and vision quality. Regular eye exams allow your eye care professional (ECP) to monitor any changes in your vision and eye health and adjust your prescription accordingly.

Over time, your vision can change due to various factors such as age, health conditions, or even lifestyle changes. An expired prescription may not reflect your current vision needs, leading to discomfort, headaches, and potentially more serious eye issues. Your eye doctor also checks for signs of eye diseases or other health problems during your exam.

It’s important to note that the expiration period for contact lens prescriptions can vary based on state regulations. Some states may require annual renewals, while others may allow up to two years. Always adhere to your contact lens prescription expiration date and schedule regular eye exams to ensure your eyes remain healthy and your vision is as clear as possible.

Contact Lens Prescription Expiration by State

Here’s a brief overview of the current rules and guidelines for contact lens prescription expiration across different states in 2024.

StateMin Contact Prescription LengthMax Contact Prescription Length
Alabama1
Alaska1
Arizona11
Arkansas11
California12
Colorado11
Connecticut1
Delaware11
District of Columbia11
Florida22
Georgia11
Hawaii1
Idaho11
Illinois11
Indiana11
Iowa11.5
Kansas1
Kentucky11
Louisiana11.5
Maine12
Maryland12
Massachusetts1
Michigan1
Minnesota22
Mississippi12
Missouri1
Montana1
Nebraska11
Nevada1
New Hampshire11
New Jersey12
New Mexico2
New York1
North Carolina1
North Dakota11
Ohio11
Oklahoma11
Oregon1
Pennsylvania11
Rhode Island1
South Carolina11
South Dakota1
Tennessee1
Texas1
Utah22
Vermont11
Virginia1
Washington2
West Virginia1
Wisconsin1
Wyoming1

What Happens if You Wear Expired Contact Lenses?

Wearing expired contact lenses, whether dailies, weeklies, or monthlies, can lead to several serious issues. Here are some of the most common problems you might experience:

  1. Eye Infections – Expired contact lenses can become contaminated with bacteria and other pathogens. Wearing these lenses increases the risk of developing eye infections, which can cause redness, pain, discharge, and potentially lead to more severe complications if not treated promptly.
  2. Discomfort and Irritation – The materials in contact lenses degrade over time, leading to a breakdown in their structural integrity. This can cause the lenses to feel uncomfortable or irritating when worn, resulting in a gritty or burning sensation in the eyes.
  3. Reduced Vision Quality – Expired contact lenses may lose their clarity and proper fit, leading to blurry or distorted vision. This can strain your eyes and make daily activities like reading or driving more challenging and unsafe.
  4. Corneal Damage – Wearing expired contact lenses can scratch or damage the cornea, the clear front surface of your eye. This damage can lead to pain, sensitivity to light, and increased risk of infections.
  5. Allergic Reactions – The preservatives and other chemicals in contact lens solutions can break down over time and cause allergic reactions. Symptoms may include itching, redness, swelling, and watery eyes.

What to Do if You Accidentally Wear Expired Contacts

If you realize you’ve worn an old batch of contact lenses, don’t panic! Follow these steps instead to minimize potential harm:

  1. Wash Your Hands – Before handling your eyes or contact lenses, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water to prevent transferring any bacteria or contaminants.
  2. Remove the Lenses Immediately – Take out the expired lenses as soon as you realize they are expired.
  3. Rinse Your Eyes – Use sterile saline solution or artificial tears to rinse your eyes. This can help flush out any potential irritants or contaminants from the expired lenses.
  4. Monitor for Symptoms – Watch out for any signs of discomfort, redness, pain, or changes in vision. These symptoms could indicate issues that need medical attention.
  5. Contact Your Eye Doctor – If you experience any symptoms or are concerned about potential risks, contact your ECP immediately.
  6. Dispose of Expired Lenses and Solutions – Safely discard any expired lenses and solutions. Replace them with new, unexpired products.

Does Contact Lens Solution Expire?

Yes, contact lens solution does expire. As the solution gets older, its acidity can change, leading to a loss of its cleaning and disinfecting properties. This means that after its expiration date, your solution won’t be as effective — or effective at all — at cleaning and disinfecting your lenses.

So, can you use expired contact lens solution? Absolutely not! As with expired contact lenses, using expired solution can pose significant risks to your eye health. An ineffective solution may fail to remove harmful bacteria, proteins, and debris from your lenses, increasing the likelihood of eye infections. Old or expired contact solution can also more easily become contaminated by germs and irritants, which can further compromise the sterility of your lenses.

To ensure your contact lenses remain safe and effective, always check the expiration date on your contact lens solution and replace it as needed. Using fresh, unexpired solution is essential for maintaining optimal eye health and preventing potential complications.

Conclusion

In summary, yes, contact lenses do expire; no, you should not wear expired contacts due to the serious risks to your eye health. Similarly, contact lens solution also expires and loses its effectiveness, making it unsafe to use. 

Always check expiration dates and follow best lens care practices to keep your eyes healthy and your vision clear. By staying vigilant about your eye care, you can enjoy comfortable, safe, and clear vision every day.