Wiki Answers- Why Does Your Optical Prescription Expire in 2 Years

I always love how people get answers: Here is what Wiki says about why to get frequent eye exams and why rx’s expire.

It’s doubtful anybody knows for sure why eyeglass and contact lens prescriptions expire, or why they expire when they do. It’s likely to be due to many reasons.

One such reason that optical prescriptions expire is to ensure patients get frequent eye exams. Frequent eye exams are good for the patient. Frequent exams are also good for the profitability of an optometric practice.

But not too many years ago in the United States, many eyeglass prescriptions didn’t HAVE an expiration date. Dispensing optometrists could do eye exams nearly at cost, since they could be fairly certain of selling eyewear to their patients. But some optometrists wanted to increase the odds of an eyewear sale, and so would not give patients a copy of their prescription.

That was a problem which the Federal Government tried to remedy, first in 1978 through the Federal Trade Commission “Eyeglass Rule”, and later in 1984 through the legislature’s passage of the “Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act“, implemented by the F.T.C. as “The Contact Lens Rule (16 C.F.R. Part 315) and the Eyeglass Rule (16 C.F.R. Part 456).”

These rules state that an eye doctor must give every patient a copy of their prescription, even if the patient doesn’t ask for it!

That changed things. No longer could optometrists depend of the sale of glasses and contact lenses to be their profit center. They now needed charge more for eye exams, and they needed to do a lot more of them. And one way to do more exams was to have eyeglass and contact lens prescriptions expire, and to expire quickly.

However, the F.T.C. stepped in again, and issued a rule that contact lens prescriptions must be valid for AT LEASE ONE YEAR. They also stipulated that if a State law required a longer period, that longer period would be the rule. So in California, for example, eyeglass prescriptions must be valid for AT LEAST TWO YEARS.

The above is one argument as to why optical prescriptions expire after one or two year. Another argument is presented below.

Depending on the doctor eye glass prescriptions will expire anytime with in a 2 year period of time. This is for a few reasons. The doctors not only check you eyes for sight problems but also medical problems and such. For patients with certain medical conditions eye exams are a very important part of their overall medical care. Although people may find that since their vision has not changed and there is no need for an eye exam there could be issues such as cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, certain types of pituitary tumors, optic nerve disorders that are picked up during routine eye exams. Most people will go for a physical every year even if they feel fine, so even though you feel you see fine your eyes still need their “physicals”.

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  1. Hi,

    I am a contact lens wearer and it has only been 3 years since my last eye exam. I still see FINE and there is no reason why you should make me have another expensive exam. Why do I have to pay for a “fitting” ? These are the same brand of contact lens I have always worn!

    All you want is money! All I want is my contacts.

    Typical stupid contact wearer conversation with eye doctor and staff.


  2. LensChic, We can always count on you to come up with the #1 objection!
    Ah yes, the uninformed contact lens patient. Perhaps you should refer the contact lens patient to our post on Termite Eggs Found in Womens eyes which she got from her contact lenses. Or even refer to the many articles about bacteria and infection, or even better talk about eye health, glaucoma, macular degeneration. If that doesn’t work, ask her if she drives or has children. Would she want her children to drive in a car with an adult who has no concern for their safety, and getting an annual eye exam is a prevention safety examination.
    What would you say?

  3. Squeakcat says:

    Sounds like Chicie 😉

  4. lensChic didn’t say NO eye examination, she said why pay for a “fitting” if there was No “fitting”

  5. So I can get a driver’s license without having my eyes checked for FIVE years and wear my same glasses. I can choose to see a doctor or not see a doctor about a zillion things. I can not see a dentist for a decade, or ever, But I cannot decide that my vision hasn’t changed in 2 years and order my same contact prescription.

    There is politics and money in here somewhere.

  6. There is always politics and money there. The reason why your prescription expires is because of liability, eye health and because your eyes change constantly and as the wearer of the eyes you don’t know. Last nite at cards one of the women (86 years) has cataracts and glaucoma and she cannot see to drive- but will not tell her doctor, who informed her she should be good to go with her driving test. Frankly, after what she told me, I don’t even want to be on the same road as her and her eye doc told her she would pass the eye exam. That is scary and that is why you should get your eye checked. plus for general eye health issues. In our lawsuit crazy world, many things don’t show up and knowing sue crazy people they would sue if anything happened.

  7. Termite eggs? Are you kidding me?? Oh, so if I get a contact lens exam EVERY YEAR, as opposed to every third year, I am more than likely not going to realize that my eyes have termites, bacteria, etc? RIGHT! Sorry, but visiting an eye doctor will not prevent this, nor do I have hope they will save me right at the moment a bug is gonna eat my eyes out of my skull. Scare tactics. Ive worn contact for 17 years. I keep 2 week contacts in for 4 months. Always have. I order enough contacts to last 2 years. No problems, and I save 50%. Its all a scam. I go to Wal-Mart instead of the rip off “real” eye Dr’s, too. Much cheaper and way more convenient.

  8. Good luck playing Russian Roulette with your eyes, Kevin. 2 week lenses for 16 weeks? Your corneas are suffering, and one day they might betray you. Thats like wearing the old yearly lenses for 8 years! Not good, just to save a little $$….Oh, and Walmart Drs- first few years out of school. Good luck with that, too.

  9. So, each state Licensing bureau decides what the expirations dates are for eyeglasses and contact lenses. After age 20, a refraction (ie your prescription) will change very little until you reach your early 40’s. the contact lens prescription expires YEARLY in most states with a maximum of 2 years and must be evaluated before renewal for health reasons. the more you wear your contact lenses, the more desensitized your corneal nerves are and you could have issues including hypoxia that you don’t even know about. Things like changes in your tear film thickness and production can affect how the lenses fit as well as dirty lenses causing Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis (large bumps on the under side of the upper eyelid that moves the lenses around the eyes) This can cause corneal erosions, ulcers, etc that you may or may not feel due to a desensitized cornea. the FDA states that even colored contact lenses require a prescription by an eye doctor to ensure that the lenses fit properly and are not harming the health of the organ that is so fital to someones independence. And the answer to ‘why do I have to pay for another fitting?” is because the eye doctor is not just doing an eye exam for glasses. They are reviewing contact lens information, assessing eye health changes due to putting a piece of silicone over a living breathing tissue (a contact lens on a cornea) and it takes longer, so you pay for the extra ‘doctor chair time.’ If you go to a lawyer, you general pay them by the time they spend with you. if you require more time, then you pay more.
    To Kevin. Really? 4 months using the same piece of silicone? this is a little graffic, but think about this… would you use a condom for four months or reuse a condom if you could still put it on and it didn’t feel any different?

  10. Teresa,

    I love what you had to say. It is very true about losing sensitivity in the eye. I have worn contacts for 10+ years and recently, I started having pain after taking my contact lenses out. My optometrist spent the extra time with me and after evaluating, realized I did have GPC’s (Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis). It was painful and uncomfotable. With that said, I have a sensitivity to Silicone lenses. Therefore I needed to change contact lens materials to avoid this problem in the future. I can’t understand why anyone would want to chance harming their eyes. Don’t they realize it will cost soooo much more in the long run if they do get corneal problems and have to pay for the expensive antibiotic eye drops to heal them? Or worse yet, to do permanent damage to their cornea? I personally am grateful to see well with contacts and glasses and think it is a small price to pay for seeing 20/20 everyday!

  11. Gagnamstein says:

    Wow, Cathy & everyone on here for annual or biennial exams must seriously suffer from a mental deficiency. Did you read the article? The whole article explains how optometrists had to increase revenue after they were required to give patients a copy of their prescription. People seem to take that word, prescription, too literally and think of it as a prescription for psychiatric meds or something. If your eyes don’t change then you could use the same script your entire life and it wouldn’t be a problem. Cathy, you are just spreading the disinformation every optometrists wants you to believe. That if you don’t get an eye exam every year, or even 6 months for that matter, your eyes will literally fall out of your eye sockets because of a simple minute detail that apparently every optometrist could notice. It’s fascinating that people tend to see what they believe instead of the other way around and optometry is unfortunately turning into auto-mechanics with the same bogus schemes. “Oooh it looks like you have a stigmatism!”. wow Stigmatism?! sounds serious right! well it actually just means you can’t really see well far away. Stop with these bullshit scams

  12. Interesting take- I go to the dentist 2x a year to take care of my teeth, women have yearly mammograms, many people take an annual physical, many people have an annual flu shot.. yet ignore their eyes??? When you look at the increases in eye diseases and know how many preventable diseases can be detected through an annual eye exam.. you would too get an annual exam. Having an annual exam has absolutely nothing to do with increasing revenue, it has to do with eye, mind and body health.

  13. The optical center that provided our eye exams 13 months ago is refusing to sell us frames/lenses unless we obtain new vision exams. Another optical center a few miles down the road is willing to accept our 13 month old vision prescriptions, stating Wisconsin law is 2 years for vision prescriptions. Seems a little self serving of certain optical centers to require a new exam after 12 months vs. others that adhere to the 2 year statute.

    I’m sure the optical center that requires an annual vision exam to purchase their products has many customers that blindly (no pun intended) go along with their business procedure vs. educating themselves regarding the state vision prescription laws voting with their feet to purchase their vision products elsewhere.

    I do see the value in obtaining regular vision exams but I believe optical centers that require annual vision exams vs. semi-annual are pushing the envelope for their own monetary gain. Your mileage may vary.

  14. The tricky thing is every individual is different. Some people will abuse their contact lenses and never have a problem and a “model” patient can have severe issues with contact lenses. One main reason of a yearly eye exam is not only to observe/monitor the entire visual system including prescription and health, but to also inform/educate the patient on proper eye care. You are more than welcome to not purchase from where you get the exam. AND there is no law you have to get an exam every year. That is just a recommendation. Your prescription will expire based on state laws, but that is just like any other prescription. They are all governed by the same practices. Your vicodin prescription will expire, just as your contact lens prescription will expire. They may have completely different effects on the body, but they are both medical prescriptions, so they have expirations. That is perfectly logical to me. And that isn’t even mentioning how a contact lens causes physiological changes to the cornea that can be only be seen by our biomicroscope.

  15. I finally got a bit of extra money to replace my decade-old scratched glasses only to discover I had to have another eye exam (even though I just had one 3 years ago). I can barely afford new glasses let alone another eye exam. So how many people like myself go for years/decades with the same pair of shitty glasses fucking up their eyes because they can’t afford a goddamn eye exam?

  16. Unfortunately many. Think of it this way, how much would cost you to lose your eyesight?

  17. Nick Reynolds says:

    So Cathy, many women across the nation are allowed to do elective surgery for implants of a cosmetic nature… they are allowed the choice.
    So, you are saying that they have the right to make a stupid choice like that, but I can’t take the chance of “cockroaches behind my eyes”.
    I’m sure there are worse repercussions of elective surgeries and from wearing outdated contacts, than just letting me have a new set.
    Also, I don’t make a lot of money. I try my hardest to look good, like most people my age, but due to current laws, I am not allowed to reorder contacts with my old prescription. My eye prescription levelled off (after $1000s of dollars spent on optometrists) from its down hill trend after my early 20s and my prescription is just fine, save for the fact that my contacts are way too old. So, with current laws, I now have the option of trying to apply for state eye assistance, which I probably make too much money to receive, or continuing to use my outdated prescription. I chose the latter. It makes no sense to make someone get a prescription year after year, for the same exact result. I believe that a push should be made to remove the bureaucratic tape preventing me from purchasing a new set of contacts and that a Federal law should mandate that any prescription, no matter how old, should be valid. Basically, I don’t understand why the government is leaving me the choice of using my outdated glasses prescription, paying a substantial amount of money to get a new prescription, or just letting me go blind. I have horrible eyesight. Making someone with my eyesight go without the proper eyewear is not only bad for my health, but bad for my work productivity. I hope that this isn’t a profiteering scheme that involves “campaign contributions” (aka sell-outs) or back alley favours. I hope, with the push for communistic public government healthcare, that we could try to solve the easy problems with healthcare that are right in front of us, rather than making things worse.

  18. Nick Reynolds says:

    So, if I can’t afford an appointment, I go blind… makes sense to me!
    Sry, Cathy, but not all of us have a cushy job where they can afford to go to the dentist and md every year.
    I could get cockroach eyes after having an appointment… I could get a flesh-eating bacteria because I haven’t seen my md… Could.. not likely… more likely that these old contacts that are in my eyes cold cause an infection, cause I cant afford 100 dollars over top of the 200 odd dollars that my prescription costs.
    More likely that I will crash on my way to work because im forced to use an outdated glasses prescription from 10 years ago, when I have a perfectly good, recently new, contact prescription.
    I wish I had your money tree/income/work benefits.
    I don’t get a flu shot.. haven’t had the flu in years.
    So, antibac resistant superbugs are probably your friend. Lets just take aspirin for every headache… how bout I live off of vitamin supplements, water, and stay in an MRI the rest of my life… this makes sense to someone whom profits from such practices or those whom have plenty of cash, but not me. Not Joe American
    Finally, I’m more likely losing my eyesight from these old contacts, then a new set of the same prescription…
    You just like to invent variables, like most “scientists” now days… at least it suits your cause right?
    You are saying that new contacts of a prescription are better than old ones of the same prescription… this is called profiteering.
    You should go to Somalia and tell them to stop drinking their dirty water! (extreme I know) Sometimes economic situations cause us to seek a cheaper way… like drinking dirty water instead of dying of dehydration.
    I should have a choice whether or not I decide to put my body through the “risk” or improperly fitted lenses, that have done me well for years.

  19. Sheila Diulio says:

    I have had lens implants for well over 30 years due to early refractory cataracts. My vision has not changed one iota in that time period. While I agree for general eye health an exam is a good thing, it really pisses me off that I have to get one to get new glasses. And the new exam does not give me the same correction as my original glasses did and they won’t give me the same correction in the new lenses.

  20. I’m Cathy and I like attempting to persuade everyone with my logical fallacies. I am hoping you don’t notice so that I can take more of your money! Woo!

  21. I have to agree that the whole eye glasses/contact lens prescription expiring is a total scam. Certainly, wearing outdated eye glass lenses poses no threat to your health and so the argument that you need an annual eye exam for medical reasons doesnt hold water at all. I agree that an annual eye exam for medical reasons is a good thing, but that has nothing to do with getting a prescription for lenses!

    Contacts are a little different, because of the risk of infection and other issues that can occur with wearing contact lens so an exam every 1-2 yrs is not unreasonable. I would argue, though, that you will develop symptoms if there was a problem so that this exam is also unnecessary.

  22. Poor Richard says:

    In this thread, Cathy and Marc (optometrists) try and convince frugal and savvy consumers to continue to prop up the dying profession of optometry.

    Cathy, Marc. The various boards of optometry around the United States have, depending on the state, had various degrees of success in lobby state governments. Rent seeking behavior can be successful, but, most consumers, and especially those who have voiced their opinions on this board, clearly see the racket that has been set up.

    The funny thing is Marc and Cathy, even with all of the lobbying efforts that your professional organizations have put forth, and money that you have spent being members of those lobbying organizations, you will still lose to the likes of online glasses and contacts retailers.

    Because in the end, The Internet and desires of your customers > optometry.

  23. Shawn hall says:

    I’m tired of these people saying what if something bad happens or what if this. I could eat mcdonalds and die of a coronary, I could leave meet out too long and get botulism. It’s up to me to be concerned about my safety. If I want to buy the same contact lenses that feel good and give me good sight I shouldnt be railroaded into some other person “approving” that for me.

    I walked into a gun show and bought a very dangerous weapon and bullets, no RX necessary.

    Self serving doctors protecting their wallets with lies about protecting our health.