12 Things NOT To Do With Contact Lenses
Yes, it is absolutely safe to wear contacts, but only if they are used correctly.
In this article we take a look at 12 common mistakes made by contact lens wearers and explain why they are best avoided for the safety of your eye health and sight.
1. Sleeping With Contact Lenses In
Up to 30% of contact lens wearers admit to sleeping in their lenses, and some reports suggest that the actual number might be even higher.
There are some types of contact lenses called Night Lenses that are specifically designed to be used while you sleep and these are safe to be used in this way, as long as you follow the instructions provided by your lens practitioner.
However, in general, wearing contacts when sleeping can increase your chance of getting an eye infection. Keeping regular lenses in your eyes when you go to bed (those that are not suitable for overnight use) is not advised as this can make your eyes more vulnerable to infections.
2. Using Tap Water With Your Lenses
Using tap water, saliva or other liquids, rather than a sterile contact solution, to clean your lenses or case is another risky behaviour. It is much safer to keep lenses away from water altogether and throw away or disinfect any lenses that have been exposed to water.
These guidelines are in place due to numerous scientific studies that have shown that water often contains germs, some of which can cause eye infections like Acanthamoeba keratitis which is a painful condition that may even lead to blindness.
3. Showering With Your Lenses On
You should also avoid showering with contacts in, for the same reasons that are shown above. Getting your contacts wet can, at the very least, cause them to stick to your eye, potentially scratching your cornea and making them painful to remove.
Wearing contacts in the shower or washing your face with them in, could actually increase your risk of keratitis, a serious eye infection that can lead to permanent vision impairment or loss.
4. Going Swimming With Your Lenses On
Like showering and cleaning your contacts with water, wearing contact lenses while swimming or using a hot tub is another significant risk for your eyes.
Whether you’re in a pool or a natural body of water, your contacts can soak up the water (which may be contaminated with bacteria) and trap it against your eye. If this happens, you may be more likely to develop potentially dangerous eye problems, including inflammation, infection, irritation and corneal abrasion.
5. Not Replacing Your Lenses Regularly
There are many types of contact lenses, including daily wear and extended wear options. Regardless of which kind you have, it’s important to replace them according to your optometrist’s recommendations. That might mean changing them daily, weekly or monthly.
If you use a pair of contact lenses for longer than advised, the consequences can be serious, ranging from discomfort to pain or even to blindness. Speak with your eye care practitioner immediately if you notice any of these symptoms.
6. Touching Your Eyes With Dirty Hands
Whether applying or removing your contact lenses, it’s imperative to do so with clean hands. If your hands are dirty, then this might contaminate your lenses, which could lead to an increased risk of developing inflammation or infection in your eyes and could ultimately damage them.
The simplest way to reduce these risks are to ensure you wash your hands with soap and water every time, before handling your lenses. Once your hands are clean, always use a fresh towel to dry them to avoid getting water on the lens surface (see above).
7. Not Cleaning Your Lenses Correctly
Keeping your contacts clean and free from contamination is vital. As we’ve already discussed, if you contaminate your lenses this could cause damage to your eyes and it’s important to prevent this from happening.
The first step, even before you start to clean & disinfect your contact lenses, is to make sure that any old, used contact lens solution has been discarded and the lens case has been rinsed and allowed to air-dry. The exact way to clean your lenses will depend on the type of solution you are using, but for maximum efficacy, follow the instructions given by your practitioner.
8. Not Keeping Your Lens Case Clean
Research shows that as well as cleaning your contact lenses, it is also very important to keep your lens case clean. Your lens case stores your contacts whilst they are being disinfected (usually overnight), and so it needs to be kept clean and free of any contamination. It should also be kept tightly sealed during the disinfection cycle.
To clean the case, empty any old, used disinfecting solution, then rinse it with fresh solution and let it air-dry. The lens case should also be replaced as directed by your optometrist, usually every month. This will reduce the risk to spreading potentially harmful micro-organisms to the lens surface via the lens case.
9. Using The Wrong Type Of Eye Drops When Wearing Contact Lenses
There are lots of different kinds of eye drops, but not all of them are suitable to be used by contact lens wearers. Comfort drops that are specially formulated to use with contacts are obviously safe, but many medical eye drops (e.g., for glaucoma, hay fever etc) should not be used when wearing your lenses.
In these cases, you should remove your contact lenses prior to instilling drops, then wait about 15 minutes before putting your contact lenses back on your eyes.
We have also written an article titled ‘Can Eye Drops Be Used With Contact Lenses?‘ about the use of eye drops by contact lens wearers. If you are unsure, then ask your optometrist to confirm whether your drops are safe to use during contact lens wear.
10. Leaving Makeup On Your Contact Lenses
If you wear eye makeup, you need to be careful about not getting any of it on the surface of your contacts, as it could potentially contaminate them.
The best advice is to put your contact lenses on your eyes before you apply makeup which can minimise the chance of damaging the lens surface.
It is also advisable to completely remove the makeup before you sleep to reduce the harmful impact of the chemicals on your eyelids and tear film.
11. Wearing Contact Lenses When You Feel Ill
As a general rule, it is always safer to temporarily stop wearing contacts if you are feeling unwell. This is especially so if you have any upper respiratory tract diseases (likes colds, ‘flu, covid etc). These conditions are usually caused by bacteria or viruses and these harmful bugs can migrate from a runny nose, or a cough into your eyes. This would increase the risk of developing an eye infection and therefore, it is not recommended to wear the lenses until your illness as cleared up.
12. Rubbing Your Eyes & Wearing Contact Lenses When Eyes Are Itchy
Itchy eyes are usually triggered by seasonal allergies, dryness or other allergic reactions (to your contacts or lens solution). Whatever the cause, it’s best to temporarily leave out your contacts until you’ve identified and resolved the issue with your optometrist.
Relief from itchy, dry eyes may be alleviated by switching to Night Lenses, replacing your lenses more often or using appropriate eye drops. Your optometrist will be able to help you find the best solution for you.
It is also better to avoid rubbing your eyes when using your contact lenses. This is because if there’s something in between your eye and your contact lens, then rubbing it could scratch or damage your cornea (front surface of the eye) or cause your contacts to fold in your eye. Again, ask for expert advice if this happens to you.