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Do Contact Lenses Expire?

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A sample photo of contact lenses with an expiration date. A single-use contact lenses

Contact lenses and glasses are both viable options for meeting a patient’s vision needs. Your optometrist is qualified  and experienced in fitting contact lenses to your unique eye shape, so you can achieve effective vision correction and comfort throughout the day.

Understanding how contact lenses function and how to use them properly can help you avoid damage or injury. This includes adhering to the proper usage timeline, as contact lenses do  expire.

Contact Lenses Explained

A contact lens is a thin, curved corrective lens made from plastic materials, designed to correct refractive errors like myopia, hyperopia, and astigmatism. Similar to eyeglasses, contact lenses ensure light bends correctly as it enters your eye, so it lands directly on the retina, helping you see clearly. 

Unlike eyeglasses, the lenses of which sit about a centimetre  in front of your eyes, contact lenses sit directly on the eye’s surface. Because contact lenses are fundamentally different from eyeglasses in this way, we need to measure the following:

  • Eye surface base curve
  • Eye shape & diameter
  • Corneal parameters
  • Tear film quality
  • Cylinder, for astigmatic eyes
  • Axis, for astigmatic eyes

With these measurements, we can determine which contact lenses suit your unique vision needs. These measurements can also help determine if we need to look at specialty contact lenses like scleral or rigid gas permeable lenses.

Why Do Contact Lenses Expire?

Contact lenses sit directly on the surface of your eye, therefore, using them correctly is critical to avoid risking  injury or damage to your eye. Soft contact lenses have their expiration date listed on the packaging they’re provided in. 

Contact lenses are medical devices, and it is essential  to use them within the valid timeframe to ensure they remain sterile and safe. Within the package, contact lenses sit in a saline solution that risks expiring. After expiration, the saline solution’s ingredients can begin to deteriorate, causing bacterial growth and contamination to occur.

Expiration could occur quicker than expected if the seal on a blister pack breaks. A broken seal can allow bacteria to enter the package and compromise the saline solution, or even start growing  on the contact lens itself.

 close-up of a female with a red eyes due to wearing expired contact lenses

What Happens When You Wear Expired Contact Lenses

Wearing expired contact lenses can affect your eye health in notable, adverse manners.

Bacterial Keratitis

Bacterial keratitis, otherwise known as a corneal ulcer, occurs when the corneal tissue becomes infected. Your cornea, sclera, and conjunctiva are highly permeable. This permeability means your eyes are susceptible to infections in ways the rest of your body isn’t . Small organisms that grow on a contact lens can penetrate  the corneal tissue and cause eye infections. 

Symptoms of bacterial keratitis include:

  • Eye pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Light sensitivity
  • Eye discharge
  • Excessive tears

Antibiotic eye drops are a common treatment for bacterial keratitis. In the same way your eye tissue can absorb bacteria, it can also absorb antibiotics effectively to fight infection.

Corneal Abrasion

Expired saline solution for your contacts can also mean the contacts themselves aren’t lubricated properly. Contact lenses need to be lubricated in order to sit comfortably on the eye’s surface and prevent irritation. 

A dry contact lens can cause inflammation, redness, and discomfort. In severe cases the dry contact lens can rub harshly against the surface of your eye, causing corneal abrasions. An abrasion is essentially a scratch on the corneal surface, which is painful and increases  your risk of infection.

Be Mindful While Wearing Contact Lenses

Contact lenses are  a personalized vision correction solution that greatly reduces your need to rely on glasses to see clearly. But it’s crucial to remain mindful while wearing contact lenses to minimize  your risk of eye health problems like infections, diseases, and injuries.

Your contact lenses can expire, and so can your prescription. It’s imperative  to keep your contact lens prescription and fit updated so you can continue seeing clearly and comfortably. Get in touch with us to book a contact lens exam today.

dr darren schamber

Written by Dr. Darren Schamber, O.D.

Originally from Cold Lake, AB, Dr. Schamber received his Doctor of Optometry degree with honours from the University of Waterloo in 1997, after which he completed a residency in ocular disease and surgical co-management at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami. He spent one year as a staff optometrist at The Eye Institute in New Port Richey, FL, before returning to Canada to open Vista Eyecare in 2003.

Dr. Schamber has lectured for the Canadian Diabetes Association regarding the effects of diabetes on the eye, to family physicians on emergency eye care, and to ophthalmology residents about contact lens fitting and assessment.

He was the chair of the Saskatchewan Association of Optometrists’ Continuing Education Committee for nearly 10 years and has also served on its Practice Appraisal Committee. Dr. Schamber was recognized by Bausch & Lomb for excellence in the field of contact lenses and now maintains a special interest in ocular disease and surgical co-management.

Dr. Schamber is married to Dr. Nadia Lypka, also an optometrist in Saskatoon, and has two sons, Andrew and Luke. He likes soccer, snowboarding, water sports, and coffee. When not at the office, he can often be found at the SaskTel Sports Centre or the Saskatoon Field House watching his boys’ activities.

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