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I’m out of Contacts! Can I Push My Contact Lens Expiration Date?

Young woman thinking to push contact lens expiration date

If you've ever taken the time to inspect the box your contacts came in, you might’ve noticed an expiration date on the side. Hopefully, that date hasn't already passed. But what do you do if it has? Can you keep wearing your contact lenses?

Some people think their contact lens expiration date isn't as serious as the one on their milk bottle. It's not like contact lenses go rotten, so you can still use them past the expiration date, right?

Wrong. Contact lenses are technically medical devices, so take their expiration dates seriously. Wearing contact lenses that are past their expiration date can pose serious health risks and have a negative effect on your vision.

Don't worry, we'll explain why. Read on to learn more about why you should never wear contact lenses after they've expired.

Types of Expiration Dates

There are two different types of expiration dates when it comes to contacts.

The first one is the contact lens expiration date, the one you should be most concerned with. This date tells you how long the lenses themselves are safe to wear.

The second one is your prescription expiration date, which is set by your doctor and not the manufacturer.

Let's take a closer look at each of these dates so you can fully understand their importance.

Contact Lens Expiration Date

Monthly calendar showing expiration date

The manufacturer of your contact lenses determines the expiration date. It’s usually set very far ahead in the future. When you first get your contacts, there's a good chance that they won't expire for three to four years.

If you wear them regularly, you'll probably run out of contacts and buy new ones before the expiration date comes up. But if you wear them sporadically or for too long, you face the question of whether you can still use the lenses after they’ve sat in your bathroom cabinet for so long.

Why Expiration Dates Are Set

Let’s explore why you shouldn't wear old lenses. The manufacturer can only guarantee that the contacts inside are safe to wear for a certain amount of time. The expiration date doesn't actually apply to the lenses themselves, but to the contact solution and the seal.

The FDA requires contact lens manufacturers to test their packaging and solution for safety. When they create your contacts, they place them in a package and solution proven to be safe for a certain number of years. After that, the container may no longer be airtight.

If that happens, contaminants may then be able to make their way into the solution. Exposure to bacteria and fungi is possible. These could transfer to your eyes if you use the expired contacts.

Even if there aren't any bacteria or fungi in your contact lens solution, there are still risks to using contacts that haven't been in an airtight container.

If any air reaches the solution, it could affect the pH level, causing it to become either more acidic or alkaline. The solution's original pH level is suitable for your eyes. So changing it in any way could have potentially harmful effects. This includes discomfort and infections.

Prescription Expiration Date

Your prescription is a little bit different. While wearing contacts past their prescription expiration date won't physically harm your eyes, it may adversely impact your vision.

Your doctor sets the prescription expiration date for the last date that you'll be able to order contacts with that prescription. Once that date arrives, you should head back into the doctor's office to get your eyes re-examined. You‘ll then be able to get an up-to-date prescription.

Without doing that, you may be using an expired prescription without even realizing it. You should always get your eyes checked regularly to be sure that your contacts are meeting your vision correction needs.

Do All Contacts Expire?

Hard contact lenses beside container

Your prescription can expire on any type of contact lens. However, the expiration date set by a manufacturer usually only applies to soft lenses. That's because they're shipped in a solution that's meant to keep them hydrated until you wear them.

If you wear gas permeable lenses (also known as hard contact lenses), you don't have to worry as much. These are dry when they're shipped from the manufacturer to the doctor's office. So there's no solution for potential contamination. They're also only created when you order them, since they’re shaped to fit your eyes.

People with gas permeable lenses don't have to worry about expiration dates. But the majority of contact lens wearers use soft lenses, so this is a valid issue. Always double check the date on your box, which will be in a YYYY/MM format. For example, if it says 2019/11, this means that your contacts expire November 2019.

What Happens if I Wear Expired Contacts?

Young woman worried about wearing expired contacts

Let's say you're on your last set of contacts, but the expiration date was two months ago. You're really tempted to just shrug it off and wear them. Can you do that? What happens then?

You could, technically. But you definitely shouldn't.

There's no way to tell from looking at the solution if it's compromised. You won't know if the solution is more acidic than it should be. Nor can you tell if there are harmful bacteria and other pathogens living inside the packaging and solution.

Wearing compromised lenses could cause you to have an allergic reaction or increase your risk of a dangerous eye infection. The expired solution can also create blurry vision, dry eyes, or just generally uncomfortable lenses.

It's better to be safe than sorry and order new contacts. The short-term solution can end up more trouble than it’s worth.

Take Care of Your Eyes!

Protect your eyes by paying close attention to your contact lens expiration date. Never wear expired contacts and always make sure that you keep your prescription up-to-date!

If you’ve realized that you have expired contact lenses, don't stress out! Quickly and easily order new contacts in the brand and style that works for you.

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