All contact lenses come with an expiration date. Once they are past their expiration date, they are no longer safe for use, and you should discard them. The quality of the saline packing solution dictates some of the expiration date, but the dates can vary by product. Wearing contact lenses past their expiration date invites an eye infection.
Why Do Contacts Expire?
Technically, contact lenses do not expire. What does expire is the saline solution used to pack the lenses.
When manufacturing lenses, producers use air-tight packaging and a saline solution to sterilize them and keep them moist. They will post the date they estimate the solution will still be safe for use, usually one to four years.
The quality of the solution and the timing for the lens packing dictates when the solution expires. Your state typically sets the expiration date.
Beyond this expiration point, the saline solution might turn acidic or alkaline and damage the lenses. If worn, lenses can irritate the eyes or even cause an eye infection.
How to Find the Expiration Date on Your Contacts
There are two places to find your contact lenses’ expiration date — on the box and on the individual aluminum covers that wrap each pair of contacts. An hourglass shape or the abbreviation “EXP” typically precedes the date.
The other pieces of information you must find are next to the date. They are the name of the brand manufacturer, the diameter of your lenses, curvature of the lens and composition material.
Problems Expired Contact Lenses Cause
Other than using expired contact lenses, an estimated 40 to 90 percent of wearers do not follow proper contact lens etiquette. Ensure you follow the appropriate lens hygiene and check the expiration date to avoid:
- Swelling and reddishness of the cornea
- Severe to mild eye pain
- Developing sensitivity to bright lights
- Myopia or hyperopia
- Scarring of the eye tissue
- Eye infection
Types of Contact Lenses and Their Expiration
Contact lenses can correct various eye conditions. Because of that, there are a variety of lenses that perform different functions and expire at different rates:
- Gas-permeable contact lenses: These are good for patients who require crisp and sharp eyesight. However, they require high maintenance, so you should be ready to put in some work on the upkeep. They should nonetheless last you for one to three years.
- Daily wear contact lenses: You wear these lenses for a day and throw them away in the evening. They do not require any maintenance as you open a fresh pair every morning. An unopened pack will last about three years.
- Extended wear contact lenses: As the name suggests, you can wear these for extended periods. You can even sleep in them, but you have to take them out at least once a week for cleaning, and disinfecting. They last about one to four weeks while in use and about three years while in their packaging.
- Soft contacts: These are the most popular contact lens, accounting for 93 percent of all contact lens wearers. Manufacturers use soft, porous plastics that allow for airflow to the cornea.
They can either be disposable or extended wear but function the same. In addition, they are much easier to adjust to than hard rigid ones and last about four years.
- Scheduled replacement contacts: These are designed to be worn for a prescribed period and then discarded. The period can be a day, weeks, or even several months. You can expect them to last for about four years in their package.
- Decorative contacts: You wear these for aesthetic purposes. They still require a strict cleaning regimen like any other lens and can last one day to one year after opening the seal, depending on the brand. If the seal remains intact, they can last for about four years.
How Firm is the Expiration Date?
Doctors urge customers only to wear contact lenses that are not past their due date. Wearing expired lenses increases your chances of contracting an eye infection. In addition, manufacturers cannot guarantee the safety of the preservative saline solution after this date.
The best practice is to use your lenses from the oldest to the newest to avoid any waste.
What to Do if You Accidentally Wear Expired Contacts
If you notice you have worn expired lenses, don’t panic. It happens occasionally. Take them off immediately, dispose of them and rinse your face with clean water.
Having them on for a day or two might not have any adverse effects. But if you notice any weird feeling in your eyes, visit your doctor as soon as possible.
Can I Use Expired Lens Solution?
It would help if you never used an expired lens solution. Once the solution goes past its due date, its PH or acidity might change and lose its disinfectant quality, which is unsuitable for your eyes.
Foreign pathogens might have found their way into the solution, which puts you at greater risk of infection. Once you notice your lens’s solution is expired, discard it and the lenses in it to be safe.
Can you Wear Contacts After the Expiration Date?
Technically you can still wear your contacts after their expiration date, but you risk contracting an eye infection. You should never use any product after expiry, least of all products that come into contact with sensitive body parts such as the eyes.
How Long Do Contact Lenses Expire?
While the lenses technically don’t expire, the saline solution used to preserve them does. However, it would be best if you did not try to wash off the solution and apply a fresh one. Most soft contact lenses take about four years to reach expiration from the packaging date. As with any other product, discard contact lenses once they expire.
How Long Do Contacts Last Unopened?
Depending on the type and the manufacturer, they can last for one to four years. Before making your purchase ensure you check the expiry date and allow for sufficient time to use all of them before the expiration date.
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Focusing on Contact Lens Safety. (October 2019). U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Healthy contact lens wear and care. (July 2018). Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Contact Lens Wearer Demographics and Risk Behaviors for Contact Lens-Related Eye Infections — the United States, 2014. (August 2015). Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Contact Lenses. The University of Michigan.
Last Updated June 8, 2022
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