Bad lens hygiene, or what was I thinking?
I’ve worn contact lenses my entire adult life. I remember many, many times throughout high school and college when I would pop out a lens, stick it in my mouth to wet it, and then put it back in my eye.
I really can’t believe I used to do that!
But at least I’m not alone in being careless with my contact lenses and eye health.
A couple weeks ago the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published a report that said more than 99% of contact lens wearers (and that’s well over 40 million Americans) are guilty of at least one bad lens hygiene habit. These bad habits include:
- Sleeping in contact lenses, either napping or overnight
- Over wearing contact lenses beyond what’s recommended or comfortable
- Not replacing contact lenses as recommended
- Not cleaning or storing contact lenses properly
- Swimming in contact lenses
- Wearing poorly-fitted costume or cosmetic lenses
Contact lenses are considered “medical devices,” so eye infections or other “adverse events” are reported to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Eye infections are bad
That seems obvious, doesn’t it? But I think contact lenses become such a routine part of our daily lives that we just get careless. It helps to remind ourselves how important our eyes actually are.
The medical term for eye infections or inflammation is keratitis. At best, keratitis is uncomfortable and makes your eye or eyes look hideous for a few days; at worst, eye infections can lead to permanent vision loss.
And it can be expensive! According to the CDC,
Keratitis from all causes, including contact lens wear, results in approximately 1 million clinic and emergency department visits annually, with an estimated cost of $175 million in direct health care expenditures.
Poorly fitting contact lenses can also lead to ulcers on your cornea.
I suffered this after getting a new pair of lenses from a new optometrist. I blamed dry eyes for the discomfort and my inability to wear the new lenses for more than a few hours. After several months, I finally went to a different optometrist and he explained what the real problem was. I was measured for a new pair of lenses, but I had to wait several weeks to wear them to allow my corneas to heal.
How to prevent eye infections
To prevent eye infections (and save money!) related to poor lens hygiene, pretty much do the opposite of the above list 😉
- Don’t sleep in contact lenses, unless doing so is approved by your optometrist or eye doctor
- Don’t over wear contact lenses beyond what’s recommended or comfortable
- Replace your contact lenses as recommended
- Clean and store your contact lenses properly (i.e. don’t use tap water and don’t put them in your mouth!)
- Don’t swim in your lenses, unless doing so is approved by your optometrist or eye doctor (Not sure? Ask!)
- Don’t wear the costume lenses that are popular around Halloween
- Don’t wait to see your optometrist or eye doctor if your lenses feel unusually uncomfortable—I learned this lesson the hard way.
By the way, a few years ago I switched to daily disposable lenses. The CDC reports these lenses have the least risk of eye infections.
For more information on eye health, here are links to some previous posts on the topic: