Lots of us love wearing contact lenses for vision correction, even if you need multifocal lenses. These days, contact lenses are made from materials that are comfortable in the eyes, and they can be cosmetically appealing.
But you need to take care of your contact lenses to avoid eye irritation and infections that could affect your vision and eye health—in extreme cases, permanently.
UNC Health optometrist Michael Mendsen, OD, offers these do’s and don’ts for contact wearers.
Do: Wash and dry your hands thoroughly before handling your contacts.
Over the past few years, we’ve become more aware of the importance of washing our hands to prevent the spread of infection. The same goes for contact lenses.
“Whether you’re putting in your contact lenses or taking them out, always make sure your hands are clean,” Dr. Mendsen says.
The simple action reduces the risk of getting bacteria on your lenses and, consequently, in your eyes.
Do: Use the right multipurpose contact lens solution.
A multipurpose solution is used to clean, disinfect, rinse and store contact lenses, and not all solutions are equal. Products for hard contact lenses are different from those for soft contact lenses, Dr. Mendsen says. “Solutions for gas permeable, or hard, lenses are more viscous—almost slimy,” he says.
Check the product label to make sure you’re buying the correct solution for your lenses.
When you take a contact out of your eye, put it in your palm, pour solution over the top and gently rub it with a finger from the other hand. Then put the lens in its case with enough solution to submerge it.
Do: Use fresh solution each time you clean and store your contact lenses.
You reduce the risk of getting an infection in your eyes when you use fresh solution, Dr. Mendsen says.
Change the case periodically for the same reason—at least once every three months is a good idea. Most multipurpose solutions come with a new case. If not, cases are usually available in stores that sell eye care products.
Do: Replace your lenses on schedule.
Contact lenses are supposed to be replaced daily, weekly or monthly as directed. “Make sure you change them when you’re supposed to,” Dr. Mendsen says.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves contact lenses based on clinical trial evidence, he says.
“Don’t wear your lenses longer than the FDA recommends,” he says. “Otherwise, proteins, fats and dirt can build up on the lens, making it uncomfortable and potentially causing serious problems.”
Do: Remove your lenses daily, even if they are made for extended wear.
Contact lenses work by covering your cornea to correct your vision, but they should be taken out periodically to keep your eyes healthy.
“If you leave your contact lenses in your eyes all the time, then your cornea may not be getting all the oxygen it needs,” Dr. Mendsen says. “If you’re camping or working overnight, you can leave them in, but I tell people to take them out as often as they can.”
Do: Pay attention to your eyes.
“If they are uncomfortable, red or tearing, then take your contact lenses out and give your eyes a break,” Dr. Mendsen says. “If you’re still not able to wear them comfortably in a day or two, reach out to your eye doctor.”
If you’re away from home when this happens, see an urgent care provider nearby.
Don’t: Sleep in your contact lenses.
Even if your contact lenses are approved for extended wear, you should take them out to clean them and to allow oxygen to reach your corneas.
If you fall asleep with your contacts in, remove them when you wake up. “Clean them as you usually do,” Dr. Mendsen says. “Let your eyes rest for a day. You can usually start wearing them again the next day.”
Don’t: Use tap water to clean or store your contact lenses.
Avoid using anything except multipurpose solution to clean and store your contact lenses. For that matter, don’t shower or swim with contact lenses in your eyes.
“Tap water contains lots of bacteria,” Dr. Mendsen says. “It puts you at higher risk of infections, and those infections can be serious.”
Don’t use saline solutions for cleaning or storing either. “Saline has no disinfectant,” he says. “It’s normally used as an eye wash.”
Don’t: Store your contact lenses in anything except a contact lens case.
Although it can be convenient to put your lenses in a paper cup, glass, plastic bag or some other container nearby, these can have dirt or bacteria in them.
Cases designed for contacts will keep the lenses safe and moist (remember to add solution).
Also, using the case only for contact lenses helps reduce the risk of bacterial contamination.
Don’t: Wait to get help if you suspect an eye infection.
“Symptoms of an eye infection are redness, pain, sensitivity to light, reduced vision, and tearing or watering,” Dr. Mendsen says. These could indicate a corneal ulcer.
“It needs to be treated with topical antibiotics as soon as possible, or the ulcer can grow and cause permanent vision changes,” he says. “Even after treatment, it’s likely there will be a scar where the ulcer was.”
If the scar is large or is in the central part of the cornea, it might cause blurred vision.
If you have questions about contact lenses or concerns about your eyes, talk to your eye doctor. Need a doctor? Find one here.