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.

Dean McGee Eye Institute optometrist, Dr. Rachel M. Caywood, OD, FAAO, recommends the following contact lens cleaning routine:

  1. Always wash your hands before handling your lenses. 
  2. After inserting your contacts, dispose of old solution in the case.  If needed, use contact lens solution or saline solution to rinse your case and dry it with a clean towel or tissue.  Store an empty case upside down with the caps off.
  3. After removing lenses from your eye, use a few drops of multipurpose solution and rub each in the palm of your hand for a few seconds before putting it in the case.  (If using hydrogen peroxide solution, this step can be skipped.)
  4. Always fill the case with new solution and make sure the lens is submerged prior to putting the cap on the case. 
  5. Replace your case monthly.
  6. Never use water to clean or store your contact lenses or case.

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.

Dr. Caywood often recommends Clear Care peroxide based solution.  This disinfects lenses effectively and is great for people with dry eye or sensitivity to chemicals.  Be careful to read the directions on the use of this solution and never put it directly in the eye.  Clear Care can be used with hard or soft lenses.

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. Caywood 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 breathe. Even if you’re not planning to sleep, take your contacts out when you’ve passed the healthy wearing period.

“I recommend removing your contacts an hour or two before bed to give your eyes a break.” Dr. Caywood says.  She adds, “It’s important to have a pair of glasses that can be worn after contact lenses are removed.”

In terms of replacing your lenses, it depends on the type of contacts you wear. Disposable soft contacts are very popular and have a replacement schedule anywhere from one day to three months.  Hard contacts are more durable, and can last for years with proper care.

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.

Dr. Caywood advises, “Regardless of what type of contacts you wear, an annual exam is recommended to ensure proper fit and prescription to optimize your vision and eye health.”

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. Caywood says.

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.

If you’re doing heavy-duty cleaning, doing lawn work, or working in a lab, wear glasses or use protective eyewear.

“Do not wear your contacts if your eyes are irritated, red or your vision isn’t clear.  Refrain from wearing your contacts until you can see your eye care provider to check for an eye infection.  Never wear a contact lens that is scratched or has a nick or tear in the edge.  This could injure your eye and the lens should be replaced.” Dr. Caywood says.

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. Caywood 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 big responsibility, according to Dr. Caywood.  If proper contact lens care is neglected, glasses are a better choice.

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.