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Do Contact Lenses Expire?

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Contact lens solution drips into a contact lens case with contact lenses sitting on the table in front.

Millions of people wear contact lenses instead of eyeglasses, but not everyone actually pays attention to the expiry date on their lenses. Yes, your contacts have an expiry date, but the expiration times vary between the different types of contact lenses available.

It’s important you know the expiry date of your contacts to prevent accidentally wearing expired lenses and potentially causing unnecessary eye problems.

It’s worth noting that if you realize you’ve been wearing expired contact lenses and have any unusual symptoms, you should call your eye doctor and book an eye examination. They can ensure that there’s no lasting damage done to your eye.

Why Do Contact Lenses Expire?

In a way, there are two expiration dates for contact lenses. The lenses will have a hard expiration date, even in unopened packages. And then another expiration once they’re removed from the manufacturer’s packaging.

When manufactured, contact lenses are sterilized and put into individually sealed packages for distribution. Over time, the seal on the package can break down and allow contaminants into the solution. Also, the solution that the contact lenses are in breaks down over time, and the preservatives become ineffective at keeping the lenses sterile.

However, a new expiration date is on the table once you open the package and start wearing the contact lenses. This one varies between the various types of lenses, which we will discuss further down.

Problems From Wearing Expired Contact Lenses

Because of how contact lenses do their job, several risks accompany using them. Complications commonly arise due to improper handling or cleaning of the lenses or using them beyond their expiration date.

Here are some complications you could experience if proper care is not taken in lens maintenance or expiry dates:

  • Moderate or intense discomfort in your eyes (even after you remove the contact lenses)
  • Light sensitivity
  • Corneal inflammation
  • Red eyes
  • Infection that requires medication
  • Scarring on your eye
  • Vision loss—partial or total

Can You Wear Expired Contact Lenses?

Technically, you could wear an expired contact lens, and it will likely do the job it’s supposed to do. However, it is not a good idea because the manufacturer cannot guarantee that the lenses will be sterile or free from contamination past a specific date.

Many contacts have approximately a 3 to 4-year expiry date from the time they are manufactured. So, if you’re unsure of the date and have had them for several years, getting new lenses is probably a good idea.

A close up of a woman holding a contact lens on her finger about to place it in her eye.

Different Contact Lens Options

Because contact lenses have different lifespans after they’re opened, there are several options on the market to fit your lifestyle. Two of the most common materials are soft and rigid gas permeable (RGP). 

Soft contacts are typically made of soft plastic materials that will allow oxygen through the lens into the cornea. Most contact lens options on the market are available as soft contacts. RGP lenses are made from silicone-based material and are more resistant to build-up. They often produce better corrective results as well.

Here are some of the common types of contact lenses:

  • Disposable: Disposable contact lenses are one of the most expensive options but arguably one of the healthiest options for your eye. They are designed to be worn for one day and then thrown out. This leaves a lot fewer chances for contamination in your eyes.
  • Extended Wear: Several types of extended wear contact lenses are available with soft or RGP material. Typically, these lenses are meant to be worn continuously for up to a week or an entire month if you only wear them during the day. This varies by brand and particular material.
  • Replacement Schedule: Again, these contact lenses are available in multiple materials. They are almost a combination of extended wear and disposable. Each brand and specific lens has a schedule. For example, it could be one day, a couple of weeks, or a month. Once the specified time is up, the contact lenses should be thrown out and replaced by a new pair. 

Caring for Your Contact Lenses

Aside from paying attention to the expiry date on your contact lenses, it’s also important to ensure you take proper care of them. If not, you run the risk of a lot of the same complications from wearing expired lenses.

Basic tips for contact lens care:

  • Use a suitable contact solution
  • Rub contact lenses to loosen the protein build-up (many optometrists will warn against so-called “no-rub formulas”)
  • Rinse the lenses thoroughly with the appropriate solution
  • If you can, leave your contacts occasionally to give your eyes a rest
  • Replace the lenses according to recommendation

Contact Solution Expiry

Like your contact lenses, the solution you use for cleaning and storing them also has an expiry date. After the expiry, there is no guarantee that it will properly clean your contact lenses. If anything, it could potentially introduce contaminants to the lenses.

Getting New Contacts

If you’ve been having a lot of problems, it won’t hurt to book a contact lens fitting exam to ensure that you have the correct lens for your unique eye. Give us a shout today, and our helpful staff at Seal Beach Eyes Optometry are happy to answer all your questions and book you in for the examination when it’s convenient.

Written by Total Vision

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