Because the FDA classifies contact lenses as medical devices, you need a doctor’s prescription to buy and wear them. It’s the prescription that gives you the right to buy your lenses from your retailer of choice.
Contact lens prescriptions are only good for a certain amount of time. When your prescription expires, you may be able to take an online vision exam that a doctor will review to issue you a new prescription. If you’re experiencing discomfort, redness, or dry eyes, or have a pre-existing condition, visit an eye doctor for a full eye exam.
It’s common to hear the phrase “Your contact lens prescription expires in one year.” In fact, it’s said often enough that most people believe it’s the hard-and-fast truth. The real truth is that it depends.
Most contact lens prescriptions expire between 1 to 2 years after your eye exam or contact lens fitting. Multiple factors determine how long your prescription is actually good for.
In 2003, Congress passed a law called The Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act. This law set forth the requirements for the expiration of contact lens prescriptions. The law gives three (3) considerations for the length of a contact lens prescription:
- It shall expire on the date specified by any laws in the state where the exam took place and the prescription was written, as long as those laws are not less than one year (health exception noted below).
- It shall not expire less than one year from the date you were given a copy of your prescription, following the completion of your contact lens exam and fitting, unless you have a specific medical reason that would warrant you seeing the doctor for an updated exam in less than one year.
- It shall expire on a date specified by the prescribing doctor that is based on his/her medical judgement with respect to your eye health.
First, the minimum your contact lens prescription will be good for is one year**. This is set forth as the least amount of time your prescription is good for, unless you have a medical condition that warrants less time.
Second, if your state has a law that requires a longer period than one year, then it should be followed.
Third, your eye doctor has discretion to write a prescription for longer than one year, state laws permitting, based on your current eye health and history.
To sum up, the minimum established by federal law is one year. The prescription can be longer based on state laws and the discretion of your eye doctor.
Since each state government has the right to determine if they will authorize a prescription period of more than one year, we have listed the current state law*** for each state as it relates to the length of a contact lens prescription. Please note that not every state has a law that dictates how long a contact lens prescription is good for.
Additionally, the specific wording in the law is also a determining factor in how long a prescription can be good for. Some states have minimum requirements, other states have maximum requirements.
**Special Note. Please note that the law specifically says your prescription is good for a minimum of one year from the day your first receive a written copy of the prescription, not the day you had your initial eye exam and contact lens fitting, even though these are often, but not always, the same day. Additional follow-up visits after the initial fitting, especially if you are wearing a lens for the first time, may be required to assure proper fit and comfort of the lens. These visits may delay the day you are issued your contact lens prescription past your exam date and push the expiration date accordingly.
***Current as of this writing (November 2016). Note that laws may be updated/changed during your state’s legislative sessions.
The following table summarizes and links to each state law (where available), listing the state and the minimum (as required by Federal or State law) and maximum lengths (as dictated by State law).
(Scroll to the right to see the rest of the table)
|State||Min. Length||Max. Length||Link|
|Alaska||1 year||Not given||Link|
|Alabama||1 year||Not given|
|Arkansas||1 year||1 year||Link|
|Arizona||1 year||1 year||Link|
|California||1 year||2 years||Link|
|Colorado||1 year||1 year||Link|
|Connecticut||1 year||Not given|
|D.C.||1 year||1 year||Link|
|Delaware||1 year||1 year||Link|
|Florida||2 years||2 years||Link|
|Georgia||1 year||1 year||Link|
|Hawaii||1 year||Not given|
|Iowa||1 year||18 months||Link|
|Idaho||1 year||1 year||Link|
|Illinois||1 year||1 year||Link|
|Indiana||1 year||1 year||Link|
|Kansas||1 year||Not given||Link|
|Kentucky||1 year||1 year||Link|
|Louisiana||1 year||18 months||Link|
|Massachusetts||1 year||Not given||Link|
|Maryland||1 year||2 years||Link|
|Maine||1 year||2 years||Link|
|Michigan||1 year||Not given||Link|
|Minnesota||2 years||2 years||Link|
|Missouri||1 year||Not given|
|Mississippi||1 year||2 years||Link|
|Montana||1 year||Not given|
|North Carolina||1 year||Not given||Link|
|North Dakota||1 year||1 year||Link|
|Nebraska||1 year||1 year||Link|
|New Hampshire||1 year||1 year||Link|
|New Jersey||1 year||2 years||Link|
|New Mexico||2 years||Not given||Link|
|Nevada||1 year||Not given||Link|
|New York||1 year||Not given|
|Ohio||1 year||1 year||Link|
|Oklahoma||1 year||1 year||Link|
|Oregon||1 year||Not given||Link|
|Pennsylvania||1 year||1 year||Link|
|Rhode Island||1 year||Not given||Link|
|South Carolina||1 year||1 year||Link|
|South Dakota||1 year||Not given|
|Tennessee||1 year||Not given|
|Texas||1 year||Not given|
|Utah||2 years||2 years||Link|
|Virginia||1 year||Not given||Link|
|Vermont||1 year||1 year||Link|
|Washington||2 years||Not given||Link|
|Wisconsin||1 year||Not given||Link|
|West Virginia||1 year||Not given||Link|
|Wyoming||1 year||Not given||Link|
Updated Dec 13th, 2016