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Do Contact Lenses Expire?

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Smiling girl holding contact lenses against a purple background.

Contact lenses, or contacts as they’re commonly called, are a popular choice for people struggling with poor vision. With so many different kinds of contacts available, and so many different products for storing and cleaning them, it’s no surprise that many people don’t know much about them. One of the most common questions about contacts is whether they actually expire, and today, we’ll answer that.

The short answer is yes. Contact lenses can in fact expire. But more specifically, it’s the solution that expires, along with the case they’re stored in. They can develop several different diseases, bacterial growth over time, or even become susceptible to spores in the air — all of these being things you’d definitely rather avoid. 

Today, we’ll explain what happens when contact lenses expire, and what to do to make sure they stay as safe as possible for you and your eyes. For more information about contact lenses, please feel free to book an appointment to consult with one of our caring professionals. 

How do contact lenses expire? 

Contacts are stored in a plastic case with a sterilizing solution inside. These airtight cases are designed to keep your contacts away from as many contaminants as possible, while keeping the lenses themselves moistened and as comfortable as possible for when you need to wear them. 

Over time, the contact solution loses its effectiveness. After the expiration date, it can become more acidic or alkaline, which can damage the lens.

The case your contacts are stored in will deteriorate as time passes. When the seal isn’t airtight anymore, oxygen begins to permeate through into the case. Natural contaminants can then get into the case and begin spreading through the contact solution and across the surface of your lens.

Eventually, bacterial growth will occur in the case. In more extreme cases, spores can even develop and spread across the surface of the lens. If you put a contaminated lens into your eye, it then spreads to your eyeball.

The last thing you want is for your eyes to develop any infection, but it can become an even larger problem — in some cases, a bacteria known as pseudomonas aeruginosa can develop, which can lead to permanent blindness.

After the case is compromised, the contacts are no longer safe to wear. Always follow the expiration date printed on the outside of the case and dispose of the lens properly.

Up close image of a woman placing a contact onto her right eye with her finger.

How to properly care for your contact lenses

Storing your contacts properly is the best way to minimalize the risk of infection. Always make sure to follow the advice of your eye care professional.

Every case for storing contacts has an expiration date — the same goes for your contact solution. It’s best to consider neither of these safe to use after the printed date. If you continue wearing your contacts while using expired materials to keep them stored, you open yourself up to contamination in your eye. 

Make sure to check these dates often, and avoid using anything past the printed expiration date. By doing this, you’ll make sure you have an appropriate amount of time to order replacements.

It’s important to remember as well that there are several different types of contacts. You should speak with your optometrist to make sure you’re using the appropriate solution for your lenses. They can also help you develop a hygiene routine for cleaning and storing your lenses to keep your eyes as healthy as possible.

What to do if your contact lenses expire

Due to the bacterial growth and potential for serious contaminants growing in the case, you should always avoid wearing expired contact lenses. Once the expiration date has passed, you should dispose of them and switch to a new pair. 

It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on the expiration dates to give yourself enough time to order a replacement for your contacts. However, if you don’t have a replacement set, you should switch to your eyeglasses until your new contacts arrive. 

Remember that even an unopened set of contact lenses can expire. Even though the lenses are sterilized before being packaged, the plastic casing still can deteriorate over time and allow contaminants inside.

If you wear expired contacts once or twice, it’s okay. But if you feel any discomfort at all, immediately take them out, dispose of them, and see an eye care professional immediately.At the end of the day, your eyes are extremely important, and here at Eye Care Plus, we care about your vision. If your contact lenses are about to expire (or already have!), book an appointment with our caring team of professionals, and we can assist you with any of your contact lens needs.

About the Author

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Dr. Jaya M. Pathapati grew up in the Bronx and Yonkers, NY. She got her Bachelor of Science in Biology and was awarded the highest distinction in Biology at the College of Mt. St. Vincent. She received her Doctor of Optometry from the State University of NY, College of Optometry. She rotated through externships that were hospital-based and through Veteran’s Affair in NY. Following graduation, she moved to Amarillo, Texas, with her husband. She has practiced in the Panhandle for the past 21 years.
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