Photograph: Richard Austin/Rex Features
I have been wearing contact lenses for about twenty five years. Overall, I’ve been very happy with them, and have found that they have improved my vision as well as my self-esteem. As a very nearsighted person, my glasses have the proverbial “Coke bottle” lenses. Even though I’ve chosen “ultra-thin” lenses, the refractory nature of the plastic causes my eyes to appear unusually small, giving me the appearance of a juvenile badger (they have pretty small eyes for the size of their heads – check out the photo).
- Wearing Your Contact Lenses For Too Long – this was my biggest personal mistake. It’s tempting to wear your contact lenses beyond the recommended replacement schedule in order to save money, or for simple convenience. My contacts felt so comfortable that I’d wear them (don’t gasp in horror) for months at a time, even sleeping in them at night. But after a while my eyes started hurting when I took my contacts out, which just perpetuated the cycle of over-wear. In effect, I was depriving my corneas of oxygen for long enough to kill some of the superficial cells, so when I took my lenses out it was like removing a bandage from a wound. My corneas were sensitive to light, touch, and even the wind. This medical condition is called “superficial punctate keratitis” and although it’s reversible with eye rest, it is quite uncomfortable. If you wear your contacts for too long, this could happen to you.
- Using Tap Water To Re-Wet Your Lenses – Sometimes when a piece of lint gets in your eye or your eyes are feeling dry you may be tempted to rinse your lenses with some tap water. Although that seems harmless enough, tap water is not safe for use with contact lenses. Tap water is not sterile, and it can contain bacteria or even protozoa that can cause serious damage to your eye. Just as you would never drink salt water, you should never expose your contacts to tap water. The risk of eye discomfort, alteration of the lens, pH imbalances, or even infection is not worth the risk.
- Not Washing Your Contact Lens Case Regularly – At least a third of contact lens wearers report cleaning their cases monthly or less often. Obviously, mold spores and bacteria are not good for the eyes, so if you aren’t cleaning your lens case frequently you are putting yourself at risk for eye infection and allergies. Lens cases should be rubbed and rinsed with sterile solution recommended by your eye care provider, dried with a lint free towel or and allowed to air dry with both the case and cap(s) down before re-use.
- Not Changing your Contact Lens Solution – Dr. Pingel told me that many of his patients admit to “topping off” their contact lens solution or storing them in the same solution from the day prior. This increases the risk of bacterial growth in the solution and lens case. The way I think of it – it’s like having a surgeon simply wipe off her instruments on her gown between patients. It’s much safer for her to dispose of the instruments or have them sterilized before the next use, right? The same goes for contact lenses and their solution.
- Not Washing Your Hands Before Touching Your Eyes Or Lenses – Our hands are exposed to hundreds of different bacterial strains, molds, dirt, and chemicals every day. Not washing your hands with mild soap and water prior to touching your contacts is like touching your eyeball to a door knob. Why take the risk of introducing chemicals or bacteria into your delicate eye area? It’s very important to wash your hands carefully before insertion and removal of contact lenses so as not to increase your risk of infection, allergy, or chemical burns of the eye.
- Not Sharing Your Contact Lenses With Others (Or Buying Them Without A Prescription) – While that might sound like an uncommon practice, it actually becomes an issue around Halloween time. With cosmetic lenses that can make your eyes look like anything from a cat to a zombie, it is tempting to share lenses with friends. However, you should not purchase or wear cosmetic lenses without an examination by an eye doctor and a prescription to ensure they fit safely and comfortably. Delicate corneal skin can be scratched, irritated, or even infected by unclean or ill-fitting lenses. No one wants their real eyes to look scary, right? So please don’t buy lenses without a prescription or share your lenses with others.
For more information about safe wear and care of contact lenses, I highly recommend that you check out the Healthy Vision & Contact Lenses e-brochure. It is a terrific summary of all the most important do’s and don’ts of contact lens wear and care – perfect for double-checking on your safe use behaviors, or teaching your kids/teens about how to care for their lenses. Or you can use my blog post and podcast to badger them (pun intended), if that’s more convenient.
Disclosure: Dr. Val Jones is a paid consultant for VISTAKON® Division of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc.