Spring is here; Summer is just a few short months away, and the beautiful warming weather is beginning to beckon us to outdoor adventures and leisurely days at the beach and pool. As the school year winds down, many will be heading to vacation destinations, obligingly forfeiting their normal day-to-day routine for some fun in the sunshine. However, the transition to these warmer months usually means an upswing in contact lens related eye injury and infection that I treat in practice. The excitement of summer vacation seems to occur synchronously with a suppression of the part of the brain that controls good contact lens judgement. I have sat and listened to patients’ stories of forgetting their solutions, their cases, their extra supply of contact lenses and all the McGyveresque alternatives taken because they just wanted to wear those new designer sunnies poolside. I have listened to them regret their decision to leave in their contact lenses just for a quick dip in the sea as they’re flinching in pain in the exam chair while I assess their infected eyes. Good contact lens hygiene should be followed at all times so you do not end up with chronic pain, redness or even permanent loss of vision. Here are some of the most common contact lens blunders to avoid so you don’t end up with a dark cloud over your Spring and Summer festivities!
1. Sleeping in your contact lenses
..is an absolutely terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea. Always Always Always remove your contact lenses before heading to bed no matter how many daiquiris you might have sipped that day. Contact lens companies compete with one another in their market to create desirable products with words like “Air” and “Moisture” and “approved for overnight wear” in their branding. When a contact lens is on the eye, the availability of oxygen for the eye is considerably decreased. Some contact lenses “breathe” better than others but oxygen transmissibility to the cornea is always reduced. Combine this situation with a closed eyelid and now you have a very hypoxic (low O2) environment which excites inflammation and invites microorganisms to thrive in the space between the contact lens and the eye. As a provider that has treated a multitude of corneal infections induced by overnight wearing of contact lenses, even those “approved” for overnight wear, I implore you: Take Your Lenses Out. It takes a whole 15 seconds and significantly reduces your risk of injury and infection.
2. Storing or rinsing your contact lenses in ANYTHING but contact lens solution
This is another huge mistake and I am constantly surprised by the number of patients who don’t realize that there is danger in rinsing their contact lenses with tap water. Multipurpose contact lens solution not only rids your lenses of residue but also disinfects your lenses. Cleaning or storing your lens in anything but contact lens solution will not only ensure you are putting a dirty lens into your eye, but there is a high likelihood that you are inserting a lens ridden with pathogens. There are microorganisms that thrive in tap water that would love to call your cornea home, in turn causing a terrible infection. Although there are a number of microscopic hell-raisers that love the cornea, one of the most harmful is acanthomoeba, a single-celled organism that has the tendency to be found in tap water, pools and jacuzzis. If you want to lose your lunch, Google “Acanthamoeba Keratitis”, one of the conditions you risk contracting every time you clean or store your lenses with water. If you forget your solution, please head to the drugstore to purchase one at your destination. $10 is a pretty fair price to ensure you don’t ruin your vacation (or life) with a terrible eye infection.
3. Swimming in your contact lenses
It should be clear that the very argument I made above can also be made against swimming in contact lenses. Whether you’re taking a dip in the lake, river, pool, ocean, hot spring, jacuzzi, mud bath- what-have-you, please remove your contact lenses first. Like I mentioned above, there are microscopic organisms that would clamp their gross little feet onto your contact lenses, then quite literally burrow into your cornea. The outcome might require hospitalization, multiple doctor visits, a number of eye drops and a prolonged period of instilling them, enduring pain, the potential of vision loss, the potential of not being able to wear contact lenses again and an eye or two that will remain chronically red after the infection is gone, all of which, it is safe to say, would spoil your getaway.
4. Wearing your contact lenses past the replacement schedule prescribed by your doctor
Most soft contact lenses prescribed today are made to follow one of the following replacement schedules: daily replacement, two week replacement or monthly replacement. The replacement schedule prescribed by your doctor for your particular lenses is backed by actual research (aka Science). Lenses have been studied using scanning electron microscopy to determine longevity based on surface depositing and microorganism adhesion. Overwearing the contact lenses can lead to serious inflammation that may even include infection. Please do your eyes a favor and pack enough contact lenses so you can discard of them appropriately as well as a pair of glasses to give your eyes a break.
5. Handling your contact lenses without first washing and drying your hands
This one should go without saying if you are old enough to be on this site and reading this article. By simply by washing your hands you can significantly decrease your risk of infection so you don’t transfer everyday encountered microorganisms onto your contact lenses. After washing, be sure to dry your hands thoroughly with either single use paper towels or a clean cloth towel.
Fine Print: Guys, I am a licensed optometrist, but this post was not written to substitute for a face-to-face examination and diagnosis by another licensed eye care provider. This post was written to be solely for informational purposes. If you think you have an eye emergency, please call your eye doctor or go to an emergency room. You can read my disclaimer more thoroughly here.