Today, over 45 million people in the U.S. wear contact lenses which can be a safe, convenient and effective form of vision correction when healthy habits are followed. While contacts are usually safe, they are not entirely risk-free—especially if they are not cared for properly. Failure to wear, clean and store them as directed can increase the risk of eye infections, such as microbial keratitis.
To enjoy the benefits of wearing contact lenses, know and practice these healthy habits:
Follow instructions Based on the Type of Contact Lenses
Contact lens types may differ based on the lens material (hard or soft), how long they are designed to be worn (wear schedule) and how often they should be replaced (replacement schedule). Daily wear lenses are designed to be worn during the day and removed at night, while extended wear are available for overnight wear. Disposable contact lenses are worn one day and discarded—a brand new pair is used every day. On the other hand, planned replacement contacts are worn between 7 and 30 days—depending on the type of lens.Following and adhering to your contact lens prescription directions is critical to your vision health.
Dos and Don’ts for Contact Care
- DON’T sleep in your contact lenses: Unless prescribed by your eye care provider, contacts should not be worn when sleeping—there is an 8 times greater risk of an eye infection when sleeping in your contact lenses.
- DO wash your hands with soap and water before handling your lenses and dry your hands well with a clean cloth before touching your contacts.
- DON’T let water come in contact with your lenses. Water can introduce germs to the eyes. Remove your contacts when swimming and avoid showering in them.
- DO properly clean your lenses by rubbing and rinsing with contact lens disinfecting solution—never water or saliva and clean them each time you remove them. Always use fresh contact solution in your case, never mix old with new. And, use only the contact lens solution recommended by your eye care provider.
- DON’T use water to clean your case, use contact lens solution then empty and dry with a clean tissue. Replace your contact lens case at least every three months and store upside down with the cap off after each use.
- DO carry a backup pair of glasses with a current prescription—just in case you have to take out your contact lenses.
Be aware of the risks and eye infection symptoms
Contact lenses can provide many benefits, but come with risks of infection if healthy habits are not practiced. Also, if care is not addressed quickly, complications can cause pain or even vision loss. Therefore, it is important to understand the dangers and signs of eye infections.
Contact lens wear is linked to higher risk of keratitis, or inflammation of the cornea (the clear dome that covers the colored part of the eye). Many contact lens wearers do not care for their contact lenses and supplies as instructed which increases the risk of eye problems.
Keratitis in contact wears can be caused by many factors. Microbial keratitis can occur when germs invade the cornea. Germs, such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, or parasites are more likely to invade the eyes when contact lenses are worn for too long or are not cared for correctly.
Other Complications Commonly Linked to Contact Lenses
Wearing contact lenses can cause other complications, besides Keratitis, but might result in mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. These conditions might be resolved by temporarily not wearing your lenses or using eye prescribed eye drops. They include:
- Allergies: affecting the eyes
- Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis: bumps that appear underneath the eyelid
- Corneal abrasion: scratch or scrape on the cornea
- Contact Lens-Induced Acute Red Eye (CLARE): red, irritated eyes
- Corneal Infiltrates: irritation of the cornea indicating inflammation and possible infection
- Dry Eyes
- Neovascularization: new blood vessels growing onto the cornea, sometimes causing eye redness
Water and Contact Lenses Don’t Mix
Many people who wear contact lenses do not realize that contact lenses and water are a bad mix—even when showering, swimming, or using a hot tub.
Water can cause soft contact lenses to change shape, swell and stick to the eye. This is uncomfortable and can scratch the cornea which makes it easier for germs to enter the eye and cause infections.
Most water is not germ-free. There are many different kinds of germs in water that can enter the eye and cause eye infections. A particularly dangerous germ, called Acanthamoeba, is commonly found in tap water, lake water, well water and other water sources. This germ can cause a very severe type of eye infection called Acanthamoeba keratitis, which is often very painful and difficult to treat.
For contact lens wearers, it is best to remove lenses before showering, swimming or using a hot tub. And, contact lenses should never be rinsed or stored in water. It is very important to wash and dry well before handling your lenses and to clean contact lens cases with solution rather than water to avoid contamination.
If water touches contact lenses for any reason, take them out as soon as possible and throw them away or clean and disinfect them overnight before wearing again.
For greater details concerning contact lens wear and care safety, visit the CDC website.