As with over-the-counter drugs and prescription medication, contact lenses have an expiration date—usually one to three years from the date the lenses were manufactured. If you wear contact lenses, it’s important to discard lenses and contact lens solution as soon as they expire since the incorrect care of lenses and solutions can increase the risk of eye infections, corneal ulcers, and other dangerous eye conditions. Although soft contact lenses are sealed in an airtight container, it’s possible for this seal to be compromised over time—possibly leading to the contamination of the saline solution and lenses inside.
According to Bausch & Lomb, one of the world’s largest contact lens manufacturers, the expiration date on contact lenses shows the shelf life of the product from the time it was manufactured. If you use contact lenses past their expiration date, their safety and efficacy cannot be guaranteed; therefore, doctors don’t recommend using any contact lens past the expiration date. In fact, some even recommend discarding contact lenses one to two weeks before the printed due date.
Understanding the Expiration Date
Most soft contact lenses sold today are packaged individually in small “flat pack” containers. Typically sealed with a foil cover, the containers are filled with non-preserved saline and a wetting agent, so they’ll remain fully hydrated until the package is opened and the lenses inserted. On the foil cover, you’ll typically find the following information:
- Brand name
- Lens material name
- Manufacturer name
- Base curve
- Lens diameter
- Lens power
- Lot number
- Expiration date
The expiration date of contact lenses is usually listed as the year, and then the month. For example, if you see 2021-1, your contact lenses are wearable until January 31, 2021. In some cases, the numbers are reversed and listed as 1/2021. When it comes to contact lenses and expiration dates, the contact lenses are good through the last day of the listed month.
The potential risk for infection is not only for unopened contact lenses, but for those also in use. If you aren’t using daily disposable lenses then you should be on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly schedule. Although it may be tempting to continue wearing your contacts past the recommended time frame, doing so only increases the possibility for harmful irritants to build up on your lenses—even with a strict cleaning and disinfecting regimen. So, even if your contacts are comfortable, you should still follow the replacement schedule recommended by your eye doctor and replace your contact lenses at the appropriate time.
My Lenses are Expired…Help!
If you have expired contact lenses, you may be able to exchange them for replacement lenses. Simply call your primary eye care provider and see if this is something they can take care of for you. If it’s been longer than a year or two since your last eye exam, your eye care provider will probably insist that you have a contact lens examination and fitting before purchasing new contact lenses. If you open an unexpired contact lens blister and the solution has evaporated, toss the contact lens and open a new blister.