Living Well

The eyes have it: Contact lens safety tips

Anh V. Ta, MD
The eyes have it: Contact lens safety tips

Here’s a trivia question for the estimated 45 million people in the United States who wear contact lenses. The concept of vision correction using a form of contacts was developed in what year? Believe it or not, it was 1508 when Italian inventor Leonardo da Vinci dabbled with the idea that vision could be significantly improved if the cornea of the eye came in direct contact with water. He proved this after filling a bowl with water and had a gentleman stick his head in it, and for the first time, the gentleman was able to see clearly. While that wasn’t a practical long-term solution, it did spark other inventors to test ideas, and in 1960, today’s version of contact lenses was produced. Every August, eye care professionals celebrate Contact Lens Health Week to reminder contact lens users of the importance of healthy habits to protect their eyes from infection and other serious issues.

Handwashing is the first line of defense to eye health

Since COVID-19, we’ve all been educated more on how handwashing is vital to our overall health, which is especially true for people who wear contact lenses. Our hands are magnets for bacteria, and while some bacteria are harmless, other forms can increase the risk for infection. There are several different infections, related to contact lens wear, that can occur to the eye, such as:

  • Conjunctivitis: also known as pink eye; it is inflammation of the front layer of the eye, causing redness, irritation, itchiness and sometimes discomfort or pain
  • Keratitis: is inflammation of the cornea, which is the clear front surface of the eye; it can be caused by bacterial, viral or fungal infections; overuse of contact lens wear can also cause a non-infectious keratitis
  • Hordeolum: also known as a stye; it is inflammation of the oil glands along our eyelids; it presents as a pimple-like bump of the eyelid that is swollen and painful; improper contact lens disinfection or handling contact lenses without washing your hands can result in a stye

Though most eye infections can be treated without long-term effects on the eye, all eye infections must be treated promptly and by an eye care professional in a timely manner to prevent permanent scarring or vision loss. For those who wear contact lenses, it’s also noted that one out of every 500 users is at risk for a serious infection that can lead to blindness.

If you are a contact lens wearer and you experience redness, sensitivity to light or changes in your vision, report to your eye care specialist as soon as possible. Prompt care can prevent long-term vision loss!

Quick tips on healthy eye habits that promote safe contact lens use

Do not sleep in your contact lenses

Your cornea needs a break from contact lenses to breathe. Your contact lenses need time to disinfect while you are sleeping.

Keep lenses away from water

While drinking water is good for our body, water can introduce germs and bacteria to the eyes through contact lenses; it’s best to remove lenses when swimming or showering, and when you clean your lens case, use contact lens solution, not water

Properly disinfect your lenses

Review with your eye care provider for specific instructions if you wear a specialty contact lens. Most soft contact lenses need to be cleaned in 3 steps:

  1. Wash your hands
  2. Remove one contact lens and place it in the palm of your hand. Place a few drops of contact lens solution into your palm and gently massage the lens
  3. Rinse the lens with more contact lens solution and store in an appropriate contact lens case

Properly disinfect your contact lens case

Always dispose of used contact lens solution after inserting your contact lens in your eye. Use your contact lens solution to properly rinse and rub the case. Allow it to air-dry upside down. Never reuse contact lens solution.

See your eye care professional yearly or more if you have a problem

A sign that something could be occurring with your eye is pain, redness, or blurry vision, and if you wear contact lenses, these signs can indicate that something serious is going on. Call your doctor if you are having problems, and make sure you schedule a yearly appointment, as changes can occur during the course of a year that could alter what contact lenses you are prescribed.

Dr. Ta is an optometrist in the University Medical Center Optical Shop. A New Iberia native, she received her undergraduate degree from LSU and doctorate from the Southern College of Optometry. For appointments, call 504.702.EYES (3937)

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