The contact lens mistakes you might be making, and other important eye health tips

Close up of a saline dropping into a contact lens case

Over 140 million individuals worldwide wear contact lenses every day, and while caring for your lenses might feel like second nature, it’s important to maintain safe practices to ensure both the safety of your eyes and the preservation of your lenses.

Top tips for contact lens wearers

1 Before starting new eyedrops or a different contact lens solution, consult with your doctor

Contact lenses are medical devices, so it’s important to check with your doctor to make sure there wouldn’t be any adverse consequences for you with a change in product.

2 Avoid online eye exams

Although increasingly growing in popularity, online eye exams are not as accurate as in-person exams, and they can miss clinical findings. An in-person exam with an eye doctor assesses your eye health using a microscope, the way your contact lenses fit your eye, how much oxygen your eyes are getting through the contact lenses, and your prescription.

Annual eye exams also screen for eye conditions such as glaucoma, retinal diseases, cataracts, eye allergies and dry eye, just to name a few.

3 Don’t wear someone else’s lenses or contacts that were not prescribed to you by an eye doctor

Each contact lens is specifically chosen for the individual wearing it, and they're prescribed medical devices. Wearing the wrong brand of contacts or using the wrong solution can result in infections, loss of vision and severe eye issues.

Colored contacts often collect more bacteria than regular lenses, so it's generally advised to avoid them — especially if sold illegally without a prescription.

4 Never sleep while wearing contact lenses

Sleeping in your lenses, wearing them for an extended duration or failing to properly clean them can result in an infection. While we sleep, the dark, warm environment in our eyes is a perfect environment for bacteria to grow and significantly increases your risk of contact lens related eye infections. Sleeping in lenses can also cause lack of oxygen to the front of the eye (cornea) leading to blood vessel growth and possibly blurred vision.

5 Visit your ophthalmologist or optometrist annually

Contact lens prescriptions expire in one year, unlike eyeglass prescriptions, which need to be renewed every two years. The yearly appointment is a time to make sure your eyes are staying healthy in the contact lenses. During the annual exam, we check to see if the lens fits well, your eyes are getting enough oxygen, you are not allergic to the plastic of the contact lens, and that the daily wear time is appropriate for your eyes.

We also look for things the contact lenses could cause that you can’t feel. For example, if your eyes aren’t getting enough oxygen, they can produce blood vessels that grow onto the cornea where you put your contact lenses. Blood vessel growth isn’t something you can see or feel, but it can cause problems with your eye that could lead to blurred vision and the inability to wear contact lenses.

6 Replace your contact lens case monthly

I know it may be surprising to some people, but lens cases are easily contaminated. Cases can hold a lot of bacteria just from you handling the case, inside and out. If a patient gets an infection, we often culture the case to see what’s growing inside to give us a clue as to what type of bacteria is growing in the eye.

After inserting the contact lenses in your eyes, dump out the solution, rinse the case with contact lens solution and turn it over to air-dry on a paper towel. Don’t leave solution sitting in the case. Solution left in the case throughout the day can lead to bacterial growth in the case. Never use tap water to clean a contact lens case.

7 Replace your contact lenses as recommended

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has regulations and replacement schedules of contact lenses put in place for each contact lens based on their plastic and chemical properties. When contact lenses aren’t changed or replaced as recommended, patients are at much higher risk of developing redness, inflammation, blurred vision or infections.

Multiple items can deposit or stick to contact lenses. These items can include mucous, tear debris, makeup, allergens and dust. If your eyelid is blinking over deposited lenses throughout the day, your eye and eyelid can become increasingly irritated and sometimes cause giant papillary conjunctivitis, a condition caused by deposits on the front surface of a contact lens irritating the eyelid. This leads to multiple bumps forming under the lid that usually will prevent you from wearing your lenses and requires a prescription for eye drops to reduce the inflammation.

I prescribe most of my patients contact lenses that can be replaced daily. This means you’ll have a fresh lens every day. Daily disposable lens wearers have the lowest risk for any problems related to irritation and inflammation. This type of lens also eliminates the need for cases and solutions, further reducing the risk of infection or inflammation.

8 Wash your hands with soap and water before handling your contact lenses, and dry your hands completely

This prevents more bacteria from getting into your eyes. Do not use hand sanitizer before handling lenses — this can cause severe eye pain.

9 Don’t top off your solution

Contact lens solutions have disinfecting properties. You put a contact lens in solution to soak and eliminate bacteria. When you top off solution or put more in, it’s like adding clean water to dirty bath water. You’re putting contact lenses into a contaminated environment that is no longer cleaning or disinfecting your lenses.

Use solutions properly. Put fresh solution in a clean, dry case daily. Make sure you close the lid on the solution and that you’re not leaving the bottle open on your counter.

If you have questions about which contact lens disinfection solution is best for you or how to use it properly, your eye doctor is a great resource!

10 Don’t expose your contact lenses to water

Water puts contact lens wearers at risk of getting an infection called Acanthamoeba keratitis. It’s a severe infection that causes extreme pain, permanent blurred vision and scarring of the eye. Because of the increased risk of infection, I recommend no swimming, showering or hot tub use in contact lenses and never to expose your lenses or cases to water. If my patients are swimmers and absolutely need to swim with their lenses in place, I recommend a daily lens that they wear once and immediately throw away after swimming.

If you notice any redness, blurred vision or irritation while wearing your contact lenses, please visit your eye doctor quickly to investigate the cause and determine how improve you experience wearing contact lenses.

Are there certain conditions that prevent people from wearing contact lenses?

Individuals with certain medical conditions might find that they are unable to wear normal, nonmedical contact lenses. These medical conditions include:

  • keratoconus
  • corneal scarring
  • corneal transplants
  • severe dry eye
  • eye injuries
  • chronic eye conditions

In such cases, specialty medical lenses are recommended. Medical lenses are those that are made specifically for an eye condition where traditional contact lenses are not.

What are the best types of contacts?

The best contact lens for you depends on your eye health, your prescription and your goals in wearing a contact lens. Schedule an appointment with your eye doctor to determine which type of contact lens is best for you.

Glasses vs. contacts: Which is safer for eyes?

When to see a doctor about your contact lenses

If you develop eye pain, redness or irritation, it is recommended to see your ophthalmologist or optometrist as soon as possible. While eye pain could result from your contact lenses, varying factors like lack of oxygen or allergies could also be contributing to your symptoms.

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