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The packaging your contact lenses comes in should be stamped with a date that tells you when the lenses should be replaced. The length of time a lens is considered viable can vary, depending on the lens type.
Daily wear lenses are meant to be replaced daily, weekly, every two weeks, or monthly. (Learn more)
Extended-wear lenses are infrequently prescribed, but if you have these lenses, you'll also need to replace them on a schedule the manufacturer sets. (Learn more)
Rigid gas permeable lenses are the winners, in terms of longevity, as they can last for a year if not longer. (Learn more)
You might be tempted to push the timelines and wear your lenses longer than the manufacturer recommends. This is not wise.
But there are some things you can do to ensure that your contacts last as long as they should (Learn more)
Daily Wear: How Long Do They Last?
Daily wear contacts are typically made of a soft, plastic-like material that allows tears and oxygen to enter your eye. This type of contact lens is easy to adjust to, according to the American Optometric Association, but the lenses do wear out. That means the lenses must be replaced regularly.
The frequency with which you'll need to replace your lenses can vary, depending on the manufacturer of your lenses. The American Academy of Ophthalmology says some daily wear contacts are meant to be replaced each day, while others last a bit longer. Some last for a month of use.
Some companies sell lenses in bulk, so you can purchase a year's supply at one time. This can help you ensure that you meet the replacement schedule deemed appropriate by the manufacturer without returning to your eye doctor repeatedly for new fittings and new lenses.
But with this form of lens, expect to make replacements monthly, if not sooner. They do not last longer than this timeframe.
Extended Wear: How Long Do They Last?
Among all the contact types your doctor can choose from to help you see clearly, this might be the least utilized option. According to research cited in an article published in Review of Cornea and Contact Lenses, only about 5 percent of new contact lens prescriptions are for extended wear contacts. These lenses are designed for continuous wear for up to seven days, meaning that people can sleep in them and wear them during the day.
This long use comes with some risks, including a significant risk of infection. An eye capped by a contact lens has reduced access to oxygen, and the eye can also grow dry with constant contact use. These two factors together can allow bacteria to grow between the surface of the eye and the contact. Some of these infections can threaten sight.
Often, lenses like this must be replaced monthly. If you wear the lenses at night on a regular basis, you might be encouraged to replace them even more frequently. Insurance provider VSP suggests that these lenses are safe to use as long as you're not stretching use past the manufacturer's recommended replacement date.
Again, some manufacturers sell these lenses in bulk, so you can get a year's supply when you fill your prescription. But you should expect to replace these lenses at least monthly, so a year's supply will contain quite a few contact lenses.
Rigid Gas Permeable Lenses: How Long Do They Last?
Rigid lenses are made to be worn during the day. At night, they must be removed for deep cleaning. You might need to plop them in cleansers that take hours to work, or you might use heating devices that warm up the contacts to kill any pathogens.
When maintained properly, lenses like this can last for a year or longer. But you may find that it's rare to wear the same pair for a year. In a first-person account of life with hard lenses, published in Science Line, the author suggests that her lenses fell from her eyes, were torn during insertion or removal, or became entangled with debris that couldn't be removed. This author often needed to replace her lenses more frequently than the manufacturer recommended, simply because the lenses were so fragile and easy to harm.
Your doctor may be able to provide you with a quick replacement if your lenses are lost or harmed. Even if the lenses are not harmed, expect to replace them at least once per year.
How Can You Make Lenses Last Longer?
You may be tempted to ignore the recommendations on your contact lens packaging and wear your lenses for as long as they feel comfortable to you. In general, this is not wise.
As an expert quoted in an article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal points out, there is little difference between materials used in the various types of soft contact lenses, but manufacturers test their products when making recommendations. They have studies that demonstrate when the lenses begin to become unsafe to wear. If you stretch the use past those recommended dates, you could be wearing lenses at a time when the manufacturers know the lenses are not safe for you.
As an expert quoted by Self explains, contact lens material can break down over time. As the material degrades, it becomes easier for pathogens to invade the contacts and move into the eyes. That means you could have a higher risk of infection if you wear your lenses for too long.
Degraded contacts can hold onto allergens and foreign bodies. These can also irritate your eyes and blur your vision.
There are steps you can take to ensure that your lenses don't break down sooner than they should, so you can make the most of the investment in contact lenses that you're making.
First, use a proper case for your contacts. In a study published in the journal Optometry and Vision Science, researchers asked contact lens wearers to open a new contact lens, wear it for one day, and place that lens back in the blister pack it came in. At the end of the study, 95 percent of people had at least one pair of contaminated lenses.
When lenses are contaminated, there is no safe way to remove all the infectious materials. Replacement is the best way to ensure that your eyes stay safe. Clearly, using a proper contact case is the best way to keep those bacterial colonies from growing.
The National Keratoconus Foundation also suggests using cleansing, soaking, disinfecting, and wetting products from the same manufacturer. Mixing and matching products can lead to lens clouding, and that could mean you'll need to replace your lens. Working with the same company can ensure that cross-reactions don’t damage your lenses.
It's also vital to wash your hands before you touch your contact lenses. To wash your hands properly:
- Use warm water.
- Thoroughly wet your hands.
- Apply soap.
- Scrub your hands, including under your nails, for several minutes.
- Dry your hands on a clean towel.
You should wash your hands before placing your contacts into your eyes or removing them from your eyes, but you should also wash up before touching your eye, even casually. This strict attention to hygiene can ensure that your lenses aren't infected, and that can make them last longer.
If you wear contact lenses, you'll need to stay in close contact with your doctor to ensure that your eyes remain healthy. We would like to connect you with a doctor you can trust. Contact us to find out more about the doctors we have available.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Various Types of Contact Lenses. American Optometric Association.
Contact Lens Types. (September 2018). American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Extended Wear: Still an Option? (November 2017). Review of Cornea and Contact Lenses.
Why Do People Wear Hard Contact Lenses? (June 2007). Science Line.
Calculating Risk in Use of Disposable Contact Lenses. (April 2012). Canadian Medical Association Journal.
Is it Terrible to Wear the Same Contact Lenses for a Long, Long Time? (October 2018). Self.
Contamination Risk of Reusing Daily Disposable Contact Lenses. (December 2011). Optometry and Vision Science.
Rigid Contact Lenses: Do's and Don'ts. National Keratoconus Foundation.