According to the American Academy of Opthamology, more than 38 million people in the United States wear contact lenses. But as many contact lens wearers can attest, there is a certain way to care for those contacts correctly. Not doing so shortens their life and can put you at risk for infection and injury.
When you got your first pair of contact lenses, your ophthalmologist showed you how to put them in and told you how to care for them. Do you actually remember this conversation? You likely followed the doctor’s orders pretty well for the first several weeks. But as time went on, you didn’t take the time to clean your contacts properly every day and even may have slept in them more than once.
In other words, you may have gotten complacent. This is one case where complacency can result in permanent damage.
Risks of contact lenses
Some people might not even realize there are risks associated with wearing contact lenses. But there are, and some of them can even lead to blindness.
Known risks include:
- Dry eyes
- Corneal scratches and scrapes
- Allergic reactions
- Pink eye
- Blurred vision
- Sensitivity to light
Minimizing these risks is often a simple matter of regular maintenance and smart contact usage. Keeping your contacts clean and resting your eyes is important.
How long can I wear my contact lenses?
How long you can wear your contact lenses depends largely on what type of lenses you own:
- Conventional hard contact lenses
- Gas-permeable lenses
- Daily-wear lenses
- Extended-wear lenses
- Disposable lenses
Extended-wear lenses and a few varieties of gas-permeable hard lenses are the only contact lenses that can be worn day and night. Even then, these contacts can cause irritation.
In most cases, it is recommended that you remove your contacts at night while you sleep or when you don’t need to wear them. For this reason, most contact lens wearers keep a pair of glasses to use when they are around the house or when their eyes need a rest.
Also, refrain from wearing contact lenses when swimming. If you must keep them in, clean them thoroughly when you are done to remove any chlorine or dirty water from the surface of the lens.
Disposable lenses seem to be the order of the day and many people try to prolong the life of these contacts, using them for days beyond the recommended amount. This opens you up to infections and problems with your vision.
Using lenses a day or two beyond the recommended period won’t hurt, but disposable lenses are not designed to be worn for months beyond their recommended life.
Proper cleaning and solutions
The proper method for cleaning your lenses depends on the type you own. Your ophthalmologist can offer some recommendations for the right type of cleaning solution.
Some lenses require specialized solutions. Generally, there are two main types of contact lens solutions: multipurpose solutions (rinse-only and rub/rinse) and hydrogen pyroxide solutions (rinse-only).
Although rinse-only solutions may be appealing, solutions that require you to rub them into your lenses lead to “substantially cleaner” lenses and therefore can lessen the risk of infection and injury. When lens-wearers use a no-rub formula, they don’t often follow directions (which advise rinsing continually for five seconds on each side). If you do need the convenience of a no-rub or rinse-only solution, follow the directions precisely.
Do not “top off” your contact lens solution with water to make it last longer. This dilutes the active ingredients and can lessen the effectiveness of the solution. Ophthalmologists recommend never diluting your contact lens solution.
When to see your doctor
As a contact lens-wearer, you know when your eyes need a break. They might feel dry and irritated for example. Usually, removing your lenses for a while is all that is needed. Putting in a fresh pair or cleaning the ones you have can help too. But in some situations, you should seek medical attention.
See your doctor if you experience:
- Persistent discomfort
- Eye injury
- Blurred vision
Also, keep your annual appointments with your eye doctor. This is crucial to assess your eye health and address any changes in your prescription.