Wearing expired contacts is much worse for you than you think

If you’re a contact lens wearer, you can probably admit that there have been times when you’ve broken the cardinal rules of proper lens care. This could be sleeping on them, reusing them when you shouldn’t, and in some cases using them past their expiration date. I know I did the latter and it wasn’t worth the damage it was causing to my eyes. You may think you’re saving money or reusing it out of laziness, but this may be riskier behavior than you think.

To determine if your contact lenses are expired, you need to look at the month and year printed on the packaging. For example, if the packaging reads 06/23, it means the contacts can be used until the end of June 2023. Using it a month beyond that can put your eyes at risk of infection or worse.

Signs that your eyes are responding negatively to expired contact lenses include initial stinging, stinging, and redness. “You should remove the contacts immediately and use preservative-free artificial tears if that happens,” said Dr. Yuna Rapoport, an ophthalmologist at the Manhattan Eye. We spoke to her to discuss the side effects of wearing expired contact lenses and why you shouldn’t keep them.

Infections are a greater risk

If you have expired contacts lying around, one of the things you may not be aware of is that even if they are sealed, the fix may no longer be good. There is a higher health risk in using expired contacts or reusing newspapers designed to be discarded after a single use.

The expired solution in contact lenses can harbor bacteria and fungi, which can put you at risk for infections such as bacterial keratitis. This infection affects the cornea and can cause eye redness, sensitivity to light, pain, and blurred vision, just to name a few symptoms.

“The cornea gets its nutrients from the oxygen in front of it, so if the infection is small and in the periphery it may not cause permanent damage,” Rapoport explained. However, he points out that it’s more serious if it’s a central infection. “This can scarring, lead to irregular astigmatism and poor vision, and if it’s severe enough, a patient can have permanent vision loss or need a corneal transplant,” she warned.

Disposable contact lens packaging.

Douglas Sacha/Getty Images

The prescription may be out of date

Keep in mind that contact lenses usually expire after a year, which is why you need to get a new prescription every year if you plan on continuing to wear them. But if your prescription has changed and you’re using expired contacts, it can lead to blurry vision, eye strain, and fatigue. Instead, be sure to schedule yearly eye exams to make sure your eye prescription hasn’t changed and that you’re properly adjusted for contact lenses. Another thing to know is that your glasses and your contact lens prescription are not the same thing, so don’t think you can get away with just that.

Also, if you’re wearing an old contact lens prescription, chances are you’re straining your eyes and making them work harder than they need to. This type of exertion can lead to headaches, which can keep you from focusing at work or school. It’s even worse if you have presbyopia or farsightedness, which happens as we get older and is when the eye loses its ability to change its focus to see things that are nearby. Make sure you always wear the right prescription whether you choose contact lenses or glasses.

Dry eyes are more likely

In addition to the other risks associated with wearing expired contact lenses, you will also increase the chances of dry eyes. Contact lenses lose permeability over time, so if you’re wearing expired lenses, your eyes will feel less moist due to a lack of oxygen in your eyes. Dry eyes don’t seem like a big deal, but your eyes need tears to protect them from infection.

The drier your eye is while wearing expired contact lenses, the more likely your cornea is at risk of infection. Therefore, patients with existing dry eye or other corneal conditions are at higher risk.

“Using expired contacts puts you at risk for corneal ulcers, infection, keratitis and inflammation,” Rapaport warned. “I don’t recommend trying to extend the life of contacts, so they should be discarded accordingly,” he added. Finally, he advises that the most hygienic way to use contact lenses is to wash your hands immediately before inserting them and add a drop of lubricant before inserting a contact and before removing it.

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