Can You Get Contacts With an Expired Prescription?
You need a prescription to obtain contacts of any kind. You cannot buy contacts without a valid prescription.
If your prescription expires, you should visit your eye doctor for another exam and a new prescription.
Why Do You Need a Valid Prescription?
A valid prescription is important for three reasons:
- Doctors need to check the contacts still fit properly and are not causing infections or other eye health issues (primary reason)
- An eye exam to receive a current prescription can diagnose (and help treat) your vision problems correctly
- It’s the law
Your vision changes over time. This means that the treatment you need may also change over time.
A vision problem may worsen, or you may develop new issues with your eyesight as you age. You should see an eye doctor for an annual eye exam to ensure that your prescription treats your current eye problems.
If you continue to use a prescription that has become inaccurate, it will no longer correct your eyesight. Using lenses that aren’t right for you can cause symptoms like eye strain, blurry vision, headaches, and more. An expired prescription can also make your eyesight worse.
State law requires you to keep renewing prescriptions to buy contacts. Some states have one-year renewal requirements. Others have two-year renewal requirements.2
What Does The Law Say?
The Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act is a federal law that was enacted on February 4, 2004. It was amended in 2020. This law requires eye doctors (optometrists and ophthalmologists) to give patients prescriptions to obtain contact lenses.4
The law says that "any contact lens for which state or federal law requires a prescription."4
According to the Contact Lens Consumers Act, a prescription must be issued per state and federal law. It must also “[contain] sufficient information for the complete and accurate filing of a prescription for contact lenses.”4 This information includes:
- Patient name
- Exam date
- Issue date
- Expiration date
- Prescriber contact details (name, address, phone number, and facsimile telephone number)
- Contact lenses’ power, material, or manufacturer (or both)
- Contact lenses’ base curve or applicable designation
- Contact lenses’ diameter (when appropriate)
- Name of the manufacturer and brand (for private label contact lenses)
The “prescriber” can be an ophthalmologist, optometrist, or another person permitted under state law to issue contact lens prescriptions in compliance with any Food and Drug Administration requirements. This could be a dispensing optician.4
The Act also gives you the right to shop around between contact lens sellers. The law prohibits eye doctors from requiring you to buy contact lenses or pay additional fees.4
How Long is a Contact Lens Prescription Valid?
A prescription for contact lenses is valid for a minimum of one year. In some states, a contact lens prescription can be valid for longer.
In the case of a “legitimate medical reason,” some contact lens prescriptions expire earlier than a year.
Make sure you hang onto your prescription because you’ll need it when purchasing new lenses. Your doctor must give you a prescription, whether or not you ask for it. They’ll give you a paper prescription unless you request a digital one.5
Obtaining a prescription for your contact lenses is important. It’s necessary for your vision health and the only legal way to purchase contact lenses.
You can get a valid contact lens prescription from your optometrist or ophthalmologist after a contact lens exam. You should also get an eye exam annually, but your contact lens prescription may be valid for up to two years.
To file a complaint about prescription malpractice, fill out the FTC Consumer Complaint Form.
In this article