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Proper Contact Lens Hygiene

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woman holding a contact lens on the tip of her finger

Contact lenses are excellent for patients who play sports, spend time outdoors, or for those who would simply like an alternative for glasses. When taken care of properly, contact lenses are a wonderful tool for correcting vision. I would like to discuss the importance of proper contact lens hygiene and what can go wrong if done incorrectly.

  • Do not sleep in contact lenses. I always discuss this with contact lens patients, even if they’ve worn them for several years. Sleeping in contact lenses causes an 8x greater risk of developing an eye infection.
  • Always wash your hands with soap and water before putting in and taking out contact lenses.
  • Make sure you are replacing your contact lens solution every night. The American Optometric Association recommends replacing your contact lens case every 1-3 months to avoid any bacterial growth.
  • Avoid water when wearing contact lenses. This includes tap, pool, lake, and ocean water. All of these have micro-organisms that can infect the eyes, so it is better not to wear contact lenses in water to avoid any infections.
  • As I mentioned earlier, sleeping in contact lenses increases the risk of infection to the eye and can also cause corneal neovascularization. The cornea is the clear tissue in the front of the eye on which the contact lens rests. It does not contain any blood vessels, however, when someone sleeps in their contact lenses regularly, they are depriving the cornea of oxygen causing it to grow new blood vessels in order to create more oxygen. This can lead to visual changes if the patient continues sleeping in their contact lenses.

image of an eye displaying signs of corneal neovascularization

Wearing contact lenses during sleep can also lead to microbial infections that cause inflammation in the cornea. These can be due to bacteria, fungi, parasites, or viruses, which is why we stress the importance of appropriate hygiene. In more severe cases, the bacteria can invade the cornea if there is disruption in the surface and cause a corneal ulcer, similar to a sore.

image displaying an eye with a corneal ulcer

How do I know if I have one of these infections?

Symptoms:

  • Red, irritated eye
  • Pain that is worse when contact lens is removed
  • Light sensitivity
  • Blurred vision
  • Watery eyes

Other complications associated with overwear

  • Dry eyes
  • Giant papillary conjunctivitis – Large bumps that form on the inside of the eyelids
  • Contact Lens-Associated Red Eye (CLARE) – red, irritated eyes
  • Corneal abrasion – a scratch of the cornea

The most important thing to remember when wearing contact lenses is that they are a medical device that should be properly handled. When used correctly, they are an excellent resource for correcting vision. If you are ever experiencing any problems with your contact lenses, it is always important to take out your lenses and call your eye doctor for a proper eye exam.