Today’s blog addresses problems that come from improper contact lens use. If you wear contact lenses, are interested in trying them, or are a parent of a contact lens-wearing child, this is the post for you. I am hoping to explain clearly why proper contact lens care is crucial, and then give you some concrete rules to follow so your eyes can stay protected and healthy.
The problems that come with contact lens abuse
Among eye doctors and technicians, sleeping in contact lenses and caring for them improperly is actually called “contact lens abuse.” And it turns out eye professionals can usually tell if you’re an abuser, no matter what you say at your eye exam, because your cornea (the outermost surface of your eye) will look damaged.
Here’s how it works:
Your cornea is one of the only places in your body that doesn’t get its much-needed oxygen from blood vessels. It gets it from the air instead. When you wear soft contact lenses, a limited amount of oxygen gets to your eye, which is fine until you close those eyes for prolonged periods of time. During sleep, between those two layers (your eyelid and the lens), no oxygen gets through at all. The doctor can tell if your cornea has been starved of oxygen by looking at it under magnification–swelling and little bumps called “endothelial microcysts” are just some of the symptoms they might find.
If these problems go on for too long, your eye will be at increased risk of eye infection and corneal ulcers (open sores on the cornea). Often times, when we get a phone call from the ER for a patient with a bad eye infection or a possible corneal ulcer, the first question we ask is if the patient has been sleeping in his or her contact lenses. Nine times out of ten the answer is, “Why yes, how did you know?”
Aside from being quite painful, these conditions can even get serious enough to cause permanent blindness. Not cleaning your contact lenses, or using the wrong solution (or tap water) to do so, can also lead to infection and ulcers. I will address all of these things in the rules below.
Contact lenses that don’t fit properly also present their own problems of discomfort and damage. Your eye has a unique curvature. One contact lens does not fit all eyes, which is why you need to always have a full fitting with a professional to find a brand and style that matches the shape of your eye most comfortably. Therefore:
Rule 1: Always have a professional involved.
Even if you don’t need prescription contact lenses, you might want them for cosmetic purposes. It could be crazy cat-eyes for Halloween, or maybe you just want to change your eye color for a day. You could simply order contact lenses online for that sort of thing…but you shouldn’t.
Instead, allow yourself an extra month before your costumed event and get a proper fitting from an eye doctor (which usually includes several visits.) We can fit for colored contact lenses that don’t have a prescription.
As an additional bonus, a friendly technician or doctor will always be there to explain the proper care and use of contact lenses, such as:
Rule 2: Don’t sleep in your contact lenses.
I may have mentioned this before. Now, many people can’t stand the feeling of contact lenses that have essentially dried onto their eyes overnight. That is a good thing. But, even if the irritation doesn’t bother you, no matter how much easier it seems or how forgetful you are, you simply can’t afford to let it become a permanent habit. If you find it impossible to remember no matter how hard you try, then you might need to give up on contact lenses entirely. Your sight is more important than avoiding inconveniences. And don’t worry, we have a beautiful selection of glasses and wonderfully trained opticians who can help you find the perfect pair.
Rule 3: Care for your contact lenses properly.
If you’ve gotten a proper fitting, the technician or doctor has likely already explained the need for replacing your contact lenses at regular intervals (which vary depending on brand and type) and cleaning them daily. Some doctors even advise to throw out your contact lens storage case at least every three months to prevent nasty things from growing there. Never use saline solution or any kind of water to store your lenses. You can use a no-rub solution to clean them, but sometimes it may be a good idea to use a gentle rub with your fingers as part of your daily care. Don’t ever reuse solution or “top it up” from your last use–always replace it completely with fresh solution.
Another option is to use daily contact lenses instead of reusable ones. We highly recommend switching to dailies if convenience is a necessity for you, as it solves the hygiene problems above–and more.
Rule 4: If there are problems…
Take out your contact lenses immediately and make an appointment with your eye doctor. If you develop a red eye or itching, burning, swelling, or pain: don’t just wait for it to go away. An infection will only get worse with time. A corneal ulcer needs medical attention. For more information, you can always call us and ask!
In short: Contact lenses can cause permanent damage if used improperly. Don’t sleep in them; Clean daily; Replace regularly; Maintain correctly; Always get your contacts professionally fitted.