Can You Get Contacts With an Expired Prescription?
You need a prescription to obtain contacts of any kind. You cannot buy contact lenses without a valid prescription.
If your prescription expires, 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 if the contacts still fit properly and are not causing infections or other eye health issues.
- An eye exam to receive a current prescription can diagnose (and help treat) your vision problems.
- It’s the law. Purchasing contact lenses without a prescription is illegal.
Risks of an Expired Contact Lens Prescription
Here are some of the risks of using contacts with an expired prescription:
Your vision changes over time. This means the treatment you need may also change your contact lenses over time.
A vision problem may worsen, or you may develop new eyesight issues as you age. See an eye doctor for an annual eye exam to ensure your prescription treats your current eye problems.
If you continue to use an expired prescription, it will soon become inaccurate. This means it will no longer correct your eyesight.
Using lenses that aren’t right for you can cause symptoms like:
- Eye strain
- Blurry vision
State law requires you to continue renewing prescriptions to buy contacts. Some states have 1-year renewal requirements. Others have 2-year renewal requirements.2
What Does The Law Say?
The Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA) is a federal law enacted on February 4, 2004. It was amended in 2020. This law requires eye doctors (optometrists and ophthalmologists) to provide their patients with 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 FCLCA, 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 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) 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
Do I Still Need a Prescription for Colored Contact Lenses?
Yes, you still need a prescription from your eye doctor for colored contact lenses. Many online contact lens sellers sell contact lenses for decorative purposes.
However, you shouldn’t buy contacts from them since this is illegal. These contact lenses may also not have the same safety standards as legitimate contact lenses prescribed by a doctor.
How Long is a Contact Lens Prescription Valid?
A prescription for contact lenses is valid for a minimum of 1 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 keep your prescription. 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 contact lens prescription is necessary for your vision health. And it’s the only legal way to purchase contact lenses.
You can get a valid contact lens prescription from your eye doctor after a contact lens exam. You should also get an eye exam annually, but your contact lens prescription may be valid for up to 2 years.
To file a complaint about prescription malpractice, fill out the FTC Consumer Complaint Form.
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