Contact Lens Safety: Bad Habits Endanger Your Eyes
Contact lenses can change your world. While many people prefer the look and ease of glasses, others enjoy the freedom of contact lenses.
However, contacts are a responsibility. Poor hygiene and bad habits can cause infection and even the loss of vision. Whether you’re considering letting your child wear contacts or you need to revisit your own habits, follow these tips to preserve eye health.
What Does an Ideal Contact Cleansing Routine Look Like?
Your contact lens cleansing routine doesn’t need to be complicated. An ideal routine differs depending on what type of content lens you wear.
“For soft or hard lens contacts, you can use a hydrogen peroxide cleaner, like ClearCare, and let lenses soak overnight for at least six hours,” Dean McGee Eye Institute (DMEI) optometrist Dr. Jamie N. Rodriguez says.
“For soft lenses, you can choose to use a multipurpose solution such as Opti-Free Pure Moist,” she says. “If you use a multipurpose solution, you always want to rub the lens in the palm of your hand for at least five seconds on each side using several drops of solution. This ensures bacteria and grime are removed from the lens before storing.”
Your contact case also needs care. Dr. Rodriguez recommends replacing your case at least once a month or cleaning it in the dishwasher to prevent infections.
What Kind of Solution is Best for Cleaning Contacts?
For most contact wearers, a multipurpose contact solution is the easiest product for daily cleaning. This solution cleanses, disinfects, and restores moisture to lenses. However, it’s important to follow directions and thoroughly rub soft lenses as described by Dr. Rodriguez.
Other contact lens products such as enzymatic cleaner, daily protein remover, and eye drops are available in most pharmacies. Ask your eye doctor for specific recommendations for your contacts.
As a rule, don’t touch the tip of your solution bottle to any surface, including your fingers, to avoid contamination.
Sleeping in Contact Lenses
Drifting off to sleep on the couch or taking a quick nap while wearing contacts might seem like no big deal, but it can lead to severe, vision-threatening eye infections. Never sleep in contacts, even when taking a short nap.
“Sleeping in lenses is dangerous for your eyes because it decreases [the amount of] oxygen getting to the cells in your cornea,” Dr. Rodriguez says. “This can cause new blood vessels to grow in your cornea or infections to start.”
According to the Cleveland Clinic, sleeping in contacts can also cause irritation to your cornea and eye surface. During sleep, contacts tighten around your eyes and create microscopic tears on your cornea. Bacteria can slip into the tears and cause infections.
It’s always best to take out your contacts before you become too tired at night. Wear glasses for late night reading and couch surfing. Some contacts are designed to be slept in but consult your doctor about what’s best for your eyes and lifestyle.
How Long Should Contacts Be Worn?
Avoid wearing your contacts over a long period of time if they’re not made for extended wear. Your eyes need a break and fresh air. As mentioned above, contacts can inhibit the flow of oxygen to the eye. By taking a break, you allow your eyes to breath. Even if you’re not planning to sleep, take your contacts out when you’ve passed the healthy wearing period.
“Ideally, contacts should be worn for 12 hours or less,” Dr. Rodriguez says.
In terms of replacing your lenses, it depends on the type of contacts you wear. Normal soft and hard lens daily contacts are taken out each day for cleaning and storage and are typically replaced weekly or monthly depending on the brand. Daily disposable lenses are worn for a single day and replaced the next day with a fresh lens. After about two weeks, these contacts need to be replaced.
If you don’t care for removing your contacts regularly, ask your doctor about extended-wear contact lenses. These lenses are specifically designed to be worn for up to a week or even a month. These lenses are made of a slightly different material that allows for more oxygen flow.
Like glasses, you need a current prescription to purchase contacts. Typically, prescriptions are good for one year.
Why Is It Risky to Wear Contacts While Swimming or Taking a Shower?
“It is very risky to wear contact lenses while swimming or showering because there are microorganisms in the water that can adhere to the contacts or get underneath the contacts, which can lead to infection,” Dr. Rodriguez says.
When using tap water to rinse out your contact case, use hot tap water and thoroughly dry your case. Avoid leaving tap water inside your case when filling it with solution and placing your contacts in it.
What Are Other Situations To Avoid While Wearing Contacts?
If the wind is blowing dust and debris, leave your contacts at home and switch to glasses.
“Contacts should also be avoided in dusty or dirty environments, or where there are chemical fume hazards,” Dr. Rodriguez says.
If you’re doing heavy-duty cleaning, doing lawn work, or working in a lab, wear glasses or use protective eyewear.
What Are the Risks of Poor Contact Lens Hygiene?
By not properly following care directions for your contacts, you put yourself at risk for infection, allergies, and the discomfort of dry eyes.
In some instances, infection can be blinding. Don’t put yourself at unnecessary risk.
How to Talk to Kids and Teens About Contact Safety
Older children and teens may start asking about contacts, especially if they’ve worn glasses for some time. Talk with your child about the responsibilities and pros and cons of wearing contacts. At their next eye appointment, consult with their eye doctor to determine if contacts are the right choice. All three of you should be involved in the decision.
If you wear contacts, demonstrate proper care through your own routine.
“Parents can always lead by example,” Dr. Rodriguez says. “If your kids see you sleeping in contacts they will think it’s OK when it’s a dangerous habit.”
Don’t be afraid to make tough calls when it comes to your child and contacts. Contacts are a privilege, not a right, according to Dr. Rodriguez. Remind your child that contacts can be taken away if abused.
Contact Prescriptions at the Dean McGee Eye Institute
While our Institute is well known for innovative care and advanced eye care specialties, we also offer a full spectrum of eye care services, including routine eye exams and a full-service optical shop. Our team of knowledgeable eye doctors will help correct your vision and make recommendations based on your specific needs. Schedule an appointment by calling 405.271.6060 or 800.787.9012.