DOVER –– Although contact lenses are a convenient and easy way to aid eyesight, proper care is necessary to maintain healthy eyes.
“Contact lenses are most popular for young people and individuals with a strong prescription,” Dr. Karen Rudo of Delaware Eye Clinics in Milton said. “Young people usually choose them for cosmetic reasons and those with poor eyesight opt for contacts because they correct the entire field of vision, not just a portion like glasses do.”
But if you choose to use contacts instead of glasses, some serious responsibilities come with the decision like proper hygiene and healthy habits.
Daily cleanings should become the norm, especially with long-wear contacts and contact lens solution should always be used, never water. Exposing contacts to water can cause unwanted side effects.
Dr. Rudo said one of the most important things for contact wearers to consider when it comes to water, especially during the summer months, is swimming.
“People who use contacts should not go swimming with them in,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a pool or the ocean because contact cleaning solution won’t get rid of all the bacteria that could be in the water.”
The bacteria in water can cause acanthamoeba keratitis, a serious eye infection caused by a microscopic ameba. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the infection can be difficult to treat and extremely painful. It can cause permanent damage if not treated with the worst cases resulting in blindness. There have been three outbreaks of the infections since 2006.
If you are a swimmer who wears contacts, the best options are to take them out, always wear goggles or use daily disposable contacts.
With daily contacts, the lenses are discarded at the end of each day and the wearer opens a new pack each morning so there isn’t a concern of bacteria building up. The only downside to dalies is the price.
“You’re literally wearing a brand new pair every day so it can get expensive quickly,” Dr. Rudo said.
Another consideration is sleeping. Although there are long-wear contacts that can last between two weeks and six months, Dr. Rudo suggested never wearing contacts to bed.
“Even if they’re made to last a long time, it’s important to give your eyes a rest,” she said.
Taking them out at night also builds a habit of cleaning the lenses in solution, an important maintenance and hygiene practice.
Contact cases should always be filled with contact solution, never water and should be refilled with new solution for each use. Topping off used solution can result in bacteria growth or residue build up from previous cleanings.
According to the CDC, sleeping in contacts can increase the risk of contracting microbial keratitis 4 to 5 times. Microbial keratitis is a corneal infection that effects 18 to 20 of every 10,000 contact wearers a year.
Although infections are uncommon, Dr. Rudo said she frequently sees patients with discomfort from wearing contacts that have not been properly maintained.
“If you are experiencing discomfort with your contacts, the best idea is to take them out for a day or two and go back to glasses,” she said. “You should thoroughly clean your contacts or open a new pair but if the irritation doesn’t go away after about two days without contacts, it’s time to go to the eye doctor because it could be an infection.”
A common cause of irritation for those who suffer from seasonal allergies is the buildup of allergens which can happen both with or without regular cleanings since particles are constantly floating around us.
“If there is a buildup of anything on the lens, especially allergens, it can cause severe discomfort and the vision quality can greatly reduce,” Dr. Rudo said.
If your eyes are suffering from allergen-related buildup, it’s best to wear glasses until the irritation goes down and start with a new pair of contacts.
For more information about proper contact lens care and contact-related eye infections visit cdc.gov/contactlenses.