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Inserting and removing your prescription contact lenses is a habit you most likely practice on a daily basis along with brushing your teeth and taking a shower. However, even the most responsible people can break these habits, so it’s not surprising that every so often, wearers of contact lenses can stray away from healthy habits when it comes to caring for their lenses.

According to Thomas Steinemann, MD, professor of ophthalmology at Case Western Reserve University and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the 36 million Americans who wear contact lenses tend to practice the same common mistakes that could put their eyes at serious risk.

Here are five mistakes you could be making in caring for your contact lenses, and how to avoid doing them to ensure lasting optimal eye health going forward.

MISTAKE #1: GOING TO BED WEARING YOUR CONTACTS

Your corneas, which are the outside layers of your eyes that are typically covered by contact lenses throughout the day, require oxygen to function at healthy, optimal levels. Wearing your contact lenses throughout the night can deprive your corneas of valuable oxygen — leading to major irritation and discomfort, and in some cases, infection. Although some manufacturers and eye doctors say it’s acceptable to sleep in certain types of contact lenses, Steinemann strongly advises against doing so. Additionally, according to a survey published in the Journal of Optometry, sleeping in your contacts is one of the leading causes of an eye infection known as microbial keratitis.

MISTAKE #2: BATHING OR SWIMMING IN YOUR CONTACTS

Most water sources contain a microorganism known as Acanthamoeba, which can lead to an extremely painful infection and even blindness. When you bathe and swim while wearing contacts, this harmful microorganism is prone to adhering to contact lenses and could increase your risk for eye injury. In fact, the Journal of Optometry says that contact lenses are responsible for 95 percent of all eye infections triggered by exposure to Acanthamoeba. Any bacteria that is already living on the surface of your eyes will serve as a food source for Acanthamoeba, which can amplify an already risky eye-health situation.

MISTAKE #3: CLEANING YOUR LENSES USING WATER

Municipal water sources are generally not completely sterile, so cleaning your contact lenses in water can be just as harmful as bathing or swimming in your contacts. To avoid infection caused by Acanthamoeba, rinse and store your contact lenses with solution. First, wash your hands thoroughly before inserting or removing your contact lenses. Then, use all-new solution to rinse your lenses instead of adding new solution to old solution. Finally, rub and rinse your contacts with solution on a daily basis after each use.

MISTAKE #4: NEVER REPLACING YOUR CONTACT LENS CASE

Although the American Optometric Association recommends replacing your contact lens case every three months, Steinemann recommends replacing it every month. Using the same case for months on end can result in the buildup of germ and bacteria growth on your contact lenses and in the case itself. A 2012 study published in the journal Ophthalmology revealed that the risk for eye infection was more than six times greater in those who failed to properly clean their cases and more than five times greater in those who rarely replaced their cases.

Steinemann also advises against putting your contact lens case in the dishwasher, since soap residue, food particles, and municipal water can degrade the quality and safety of your case. Instead, always clean your contact lens case with solution and allow it to air-dry throughout the night.

MISTAKE #5: WEARING CONTACT LENSES PAST THE EXPIRATION DATE

Many wearers of contact lenses admit that they will wear their lenses past the expiration date to make them last longer and to save money. However, Steinemann says this habit poses as much of a hazard as does using an old lens case. Old contact lenses will accumulate proteins, solution, and germs that are invisible to the eye, and can cause discomfort as well as increase the risk for infection.

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