18 Contact Lens Mistakes That Could Ruin Your Eyes
Nearly 30 million Americans wear contact lenses and no wonder: They allow you to see without the added distraction of glasses and are ideal for athletes. But contact lenses require special care. These are the mistakes to avoid to keep your eyesight 20/20.
Don’t take your lenses for granted
Next time you’re tempted to pass out without removing your contacts, consider this cautionary tale: Meabh McHugh-Hill, a 23-year-old college student, left her lenses on so long they dried to the point of gluing themselves to her eyeballs. She then made the error of hastily trying to remove them and accidentally tore the top layer of her eye away, giving herself a corneal ulcer (an abscess or sore on the eye). “When [the doctors] took a proper look, they said I had scratched an entire layer off my whole eye,” McHugh-Hill told local media. “The pain was intense. I wasn’t able to do much else besides stay in bed with the curtains drawn for the five days that followed.” (Find out what would happen if you never took out your contacts.) Leaving your contacts in too long is a common mistake, but it’s far from the only one. Make sure you’re not guilty of these risky behaviors.
You think extended wear contacts are OK to sleep in
There’s a reason your eyes hurt when you accidentally fall asleep in regular contacts. During the day, oxygen can reach your open eyes, but it can’t get in as easily when your lids are closed. Plus, you lubricate your eyes and contacts every time you blink, says Eddie Eisenberg, senior optometrist at EZ Contacts. During the night, though, the contacts trapped behind your closed eyes could become a breeding ground for bacteria. At the very least, your contacts won’t last as long as they could if you saved them for your waking hours. “If you’re wearing your lens and not getting use of it, it shortens the life of that lens,” says Eisenberg. You’re better off just keeping your spare glasses by the bed. Learn more about why it’s bad to sleep in contacts.
You don’t replace your contact lenses regularly
Just because your contact lenses seem like they’re all good… doesn’t mean they are. And yes, 59 percent of contact lens wearers are guilty of wearing lenses longer than they should, according to an American Eye-Q survey from the American Optometric Association. “Contact lenses are a medical device and can run a higher risk of infection or eye-related complications if not used properly,” explains optometrist Weslie Hamada, a former associate director of professional affairs, North America, Johnson & Johnson Vision Care. “You should always follow proper replacement schedules as prescribed by your doctor. Contact lenses are just like your underwear, you would never reuse an old dirty pair.” Throw them away even sooner if they start irritating your eyes, says Eisenberg. (Learn the 13 things your eye doctor won’t tell you that you really should know.)
You don’t wash your hands before touching them
Much like wait staff returning to work from a bathroom break, always wash your hands with soap and water before touching your eyes. Even clean hands will carry some germs, but washing will make sure you get fewer bacteria in your eyes, says Eisenberg.
You don’t dry your hands before putting in contacts
Once you’re done lathering and rinsing, don’t just quickly dab your hands on a towel. You want your fingers to be as dry as possible before putting your lens in. Contacts stick to your eye because they’re attracted to the moisture in your eye, says Eisenberg. “It’s supposed to go from the dry finger to the wet eye,” says Eisenberg. “The drier the hand, the easier it is to handle.”
You use tap water to clean your lenses
Maybe you unexpectedly spent the night out or forgot to pick up lens solution at the store. Whatever the case, don’t ever clean your lenses with tap water. The water from your sink looks clean enough, but it’s full of harmful microorganisms that could infect your eye and create vision loss, says optometrist Christopher J. Quinn, past president of the American Optometric Association. (In fact, here’s why your tap water might not even be safe to drink.) Quinn says rinsing with tap water ups your risk for Acanthamoeba keratitis, a serious eye infection that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says is most common in people who wear contacts. “Acanthamoeba can cause an infection of the cornea, the transparent outer covering of the eye (where a contact lens sits), and can cause temporary or permanent vision loss,” says Quinn. To play it safe, carry a spare contact lens case with fresh solution with you, suggests Hamada.
You wear contacts in the pool
Water is a risk, even if you don’t mean to put it straight on your lens. Take your contacts out before getting in a pool or hot tub, or you could pick up nasty microorganisms. “Contact lenses are little sponges,” says Eisenberg. “They like to soak up anything and everything they come in contact with.” (And then there’s all the gross stuff lurking in hot tubs.) Even if you aren’t planning to get your head wet, drops could escape into your eyes. If that happens, your contacts will hold those impurities against your eye until you get a chance to take the lens out, which might lead to an eye infection. To protect your vision poolside even more, don’t miss these sunglasses myths that could ruin your eyes.
You shower in your contacts
Pool and ocean water aren’t the only H2O that can damage your contacts. Even in the shower, your contacts could be sucking up harmful bacteria. “As clean as you think the water is, it’s not,” says Eisenberg. Tap water might be clean enough to rinse your body, but you don’t want the bacteria in it sitting in your eyes for hours. Check out these other shower mistakes you probably make.
You always use the same lens case
Even if you’re good about changing your lenses, when was the last time you changed the case? The AOA recommends replacing your contact case every three months to keep bacteria from building up and creating a slimy layer of microorganisms called biofilm. “When biofilm forms, it helps bacteria ‘hide’ from the disinfectant found in contact lens solution,” says Quinn. You can’t see the biofilm with the naked eye, so you won’t realize that your risk of eye infection is higher than ever. In those few months before you change your case, use contact solution to rinse your case (just like the bacteria in tap water is risky on contacts, you want to keep it out of your case), suggests Quinn.
You use the wrong contact lens solution
All contact lens solutions are not created equal. “When it comes to cleaning your contact lenses, use the contact solution recommended by your doctor,” Hamada says. “Different types of contact lens solutions have different preservatives in them, so your doctor will know what’s best for your eyes’ needs.”
You don’t clean them properly
At the end of the day, it’s important to clean your lenses to remove makeup and any debris that may have built up during the day. After washing your hands, “rub each contact lens between your fingers and palm with a bit of fresh contact solution,” Hamada says. “Then, place your freshly cleaned lenses in their case with fresh solution.” Don’t miss these other contact habits that could cause infection.
You reuse your contact lens solution
The contact solution that’s already in your lens case was designed to disinfect, so it must be clean, right? Sorry, but no. “It’s possible the old solution breaks down after a while, so it will not disinfect the lens as well as it should,” says Eisenberg. In fact, topping off your old solution with an extra squirt could put you at risk of eye infections and other complications, says Quinn. Contact solution is so cheap that you might as well empty it out and do it right every time to avoid eye problems.
You don’t get an annual eye exam
This is the single biggest mistake contact lens wearers make, according to Hamada. “Some patients think that reordering contact lenses with the same prescription is satisfactory, but contact lenses are a medical device and it’s important to assess lens fit along with health of the eye on a yearly basis,” she says. In addition, a comprehensive eye exam can uncover many health conditions, including diabetes and hypertension. “Most patients wait until they have a problem with their vision but early detection is key to ensuring optimal eye health and overall health,” Hamada says.
You don’t reassess your contact lens type
In addition to identifying potential health issues, your annual eye doctor exam also helps to determine the best lenses for you based on your current eye health and lifestyle needs. If you’ve moved, started a new job, or switched up your exercise routine, these are all factors taken into account during your annual eye exam, Hamada says. “The ACUVUE Brand Contact Lenses portfolio, for example, offers daily replacement, two-week and one-month options so your doctor has many options to choose from depending on what your eye care professional decides is best for your needs.” (Here’s how to choose the best contacts for dry eyes.)
You choose your glasses over contacts for certain activities
Glasses have their time and their place, like when you’re tired and winding down in bed and don’t want to fall asleep wearing your contacts. During the day, though, contacts can be the better choice. (Use these tips to extend the life of your glasses.) “Contact lenses provide significantly better peripheral vision and a wider field of view than eyeglasses,” says optometrist Gary Heiting, senior editor at allaboutvision.com. Additionally, contacts don’t fog up when coming in from the cold or when the wearer is perspiring, and they don’t slide down your nose when you’re playing a sport, he said. “High-power eyeglasses cause unwanted magnification effects due to the distance between the lenses and the surface of the eye—strong lenses for farsightedness make objects appear larger than they actually are; strong lenses for nearsightedness make objects appear smaller than they actually are,” explains Heiting.
You don’t know when to put on makeup
Pop quiz: Contacts or makeup first? In the morning, you should pop in your contacts before doing your makeup, says Eisenberg. Yes, you’ll actually be able to make sure your eyeliner is even, but you will also protect your eyes. “You don’t want to get makeup or anything else on the lens that will irritate the eye,” says Eisenberg. And that irritation and infection could even lead to a more serious issue like a corneal ulcer in which the outer layer of the eye gets inflamed, he says. At night, take your contacts out before removing your makeup—check out these household products that remove makeup naturally—so you don’t accidentally rub mascara into your lens. If you do get makeup on your contacts, just disinfect them with solution and the mark should go away.
You use any old eye drops
Contacts can dry out your eyes, but that doesn’t mean you should pick up the first bottle of eye drops you find. “There are things in the regular eye drops that are just not made to be used with contact lenses,” says Eisenberg. “They have chemicals that could irritate.” And you won’t just blink those chemicals out; your lens could hold on to those irritants, leaving you with stinging eyes for hours. If you’re always pulling out eye drops, learn how to tell if you have dry eye syndrome.
You only bring one pair on vacation
Unless you want to get stuck near-blind on vacation, make sure you bring extra contact lenses and solution. “You could go a month of wear and not have a problem with your lens, and when you go on a trip, that’s when it will get caught on a rough fingernail and get cut in half,” says Eisenberg. He recommends bringing a couple extra pairs with you just in case, plus a travel-sized bottle of solution. And here are some more tips on staying healthy while on vacation.
- Daily Mirror: "Student who ripped cornea off after leaving contact lens in for 10 hours had to spend 5 days in darkness"
- Eddie Eisenberg, senior optometrist at EZ Contacts
- American Optometric Association: American Eye-Q Survey
- Weslie Hamada, OD, the Senior Director OD Engagement at Luxottica Eye Care North America
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Acanthamoeba Keratitis FAQs"
- Christopher J. Quinn, OD, past president of the American Optometric Association
- Gary Heiting, OD and senior editor at allaboutvision.com