More than 80 percent of contact lens wearers are at risk for an eye infection due to not having the best habits when it comes to contact lens care. If that wasn’t scary enough, there are plenty of horror stories about what can happen when you don’t take care of your lenses.
Fortunately, there are easy steps you can take to avoid falling victim to an eye infection. Here are our 11 simple contact lens tips to help you stay infection-free.
- Sleeping in your contacts is a high-risk move. Even if they’re the snazzy new hydrogel kind that’s FDA-approved to wear overnight, sleeping in contacts is still a big risk factor for infections of your cornea—the clear, protective film that covers your eye. Your eyeball needs oxygen and when there’s a contact lens in the way for an extended period of time, your eye is deprived of the main ingredient it needs to stay healthy.
- Keep your hands clean. This should go without saying, but touching your eyes with unclean hands can spread germs that cause a variety of different eye infections, including conjunctivitis (pink eye), styes and keratitis (corneal infection). Experts recommend washing hands with warm water and soap, then drying them with a lint-free towel before handling your contacts.
- Make every effort to follow your contact lens wear schedule. When you don’t replace your contacts with fresh ones on schedule, your lenses aren’t able to get as much oxygen to your eyes as they should. This can lead to serious complications, including infections.
- Only wear fresh, unexpired lenses. The expiration date on the blister packs of soft contacts is there to protect you. Over time, the seal on the packs can break down—potentially exposing the lenses inside to infection-causing germs.
- Handle your lenses with care. Don’t use tools like tweezers to remove contacts from their case and try not to pinch your lenses with your fingernails. If you notice tears or punctures in the blister packs that hold your fresh lenses, toss them to avoid contamination.
- Avoid wearing your contacts in the water. This includes baths, showers, pools and hot tubs. When you’re in the water, you could get exposed to acanthamoeba, a tiny parasite that can cause a very serious eye infection. These infections are rare, but contact lens wearers are most at risk of developing them.
- Make sure to clean your case and replace it often. Don’t use tap water or soap to clean your case. Instead, rinse it with fresh disinfecting solution and let it air dry. Replace it about every three months to avoid biofilm—a nasty buildup of germs and bacteria that resists disinfecting. If you can’t remember when you last replaced your case, just plan to use the new one that comes with your next purchase of contacts solution.
- Always use a disinfecting solution. This goes for cleaning your case and your contacts. Rinsing your case and lenses with saline isn’t enough to disinfect them. And using water, even if it’s distilled, has the potential to expose you to acanthamoeba. If you’re not sure which disinfecting solution is best for your needs, ask your eye doctor for suggestions.
- Don’t mix old and new solution. “Topping off” the solution that’s in your lens case with fresh solution after you’ve disinfected your contacts is a dangerous game. It can dilute the solution’s disinfecting power and introduce infection-causing germs.
- Try not to wear contacts when you’re sick. The viruses and bacteria that cause colds and other illnesses can also lead to eye infections—especially pink eye. Switching to glasses is an easy solution to keep yourself out of harm’s way.
- Limit contact with people who have eye infections. If someone in your family gets an eye infection like pink eye, keep their towels and bedding away from others, make sure they wash their hands often, and try not to share household items with them. Your eyes will thank you.
Bonus pro tip: If after all that you still develop an eye infection, don’t toss your contacts right away. Store them in your lens case and bring them with you to your next eye appointment. Your doctor can take a culture from your lenses to find out more about what caused the infection.
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