Sleeping with them on, not changing the solution at night, or forgetting to replace them on time. Your contact lenses sit on your eyes all day but are you putting your eye health at risk by making common mistakes?
Cases of serious eye damage stem from misusing contact lenses, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study. The U.S. report warns that between 2005 and 2015, the Food and Drug Administration dealt with 1,075 contact lens-related eye infections, from ulcers to keratitis, which is when the cornea becomes inflamed.
Twenty-five per cent of the time, the cases could have been avoided altogether with proper contact lens use.
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“I don’t think people understand that contact lenses are a medical device. They don’t understand the potential for complications down the road. When you start wearing them, you can see well and they’re comfortable but unless you’re getting your eyes looked at routinely, there could be things brewing in the background you’re not aware of,” Dr. Jeff Goodhew, president of the Ontario Association of Optometrists (OAO), told Global News.
Dr. Joe Chan, who runs a private practice and is a member of the OAO, told Global News that contact lens technology has come a long way. Users could forget that the onus is still on them to clean and take care of their lenses.
“The entire industry has moved to more disposable lenses where you throw them out after a day or a few weeks. The relative amount of problems has gone down but this has made some patients complacent while the risks for problems still exist,” he said.
Chan and Goodhew list five common mistakes Canadians make with their contacts.
Mistake 1: Not changing your contact solution
At the end of a long day, you take your contacts off and store them in their case. Tell the truth: do you replace the solution or do you simply recycle the solution that’s already there?
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Using solution is key to disinfecting your contacts to remove bacteria and other environmental germs that get into the eye.
“In an effort to save money, you’ll reuse contact lens solution night after night not realizing you’re putting your eyes at risk,” Chan said.
He uses the analogy of washing your dishes in dirty water expecting them to be clean.
“Essentially, the contact lens solution becomes infected so you’re not cleaning or disinfecting at all. This leaves you with a much higher risk of infection. Your eyes are generally not too happy if their lenses have not been cleaned properly,” he explained.
Wash your contact lens case as least once a week, too. Some of Goodhew’s clients simply throw the case in the dishwasher to get the job done.
And don’t think of rinsing your contacts in water either. Tap water could have chlorine and other micro-organisms. Ultimately, it can actually cause the shape of the contact lens to change.
Mistake 2: Wearing your contacts for too long
Your eyes need oxygen and it’s your job to give them a break. When you’re wearing contacts, the amount of oxygen that gets to your cornea is limited. While some lenses are designed for overnight wear, some experts still recommend against wearing them to sleep.
“The eye is the only tissue on the body that gets oxygen from the air and not through blood supply. You don’t want to wear [lenses] from when you get up to when you go to bed because the eye is not getting enough natural oxygen,” Goodhew said.
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In response, excess blood vessels can form in an attempt to supply oxygen and nutrients, and in the long run, they can obscure vision.
Stick to wearing your contacts for about 12 to 16 hours at most, and take them off at night to give your eyes a break. If you wear them throughout the week, give your eyes a rest day on the weekend, too.
Your eyes get rundown with overwear and their immunity takes a hit, making you more susceptible to eye infections, bacteria on the skin and tears, Goodhew said.
Mistake 3: You wear your disposable contacts longer than the recommended time
Your cleansing regimen is critical, especially if you’re wearing lenses meant for month-long use. Hang on to your lenses for longer than you should and you increase your risk of exposing your eyes to dirt and protein deposits that build up. With wear and tear, your contacts could also hang on to chemicals and preservatives from your contact solution. These issues can lead to irritation.
“You increase your risk of problems exponentially,” Chan warned.
Lenses are made with plastic and water, Goodhew explained. If your lenses are meant for temporary wear, they’re thin, and can lose their shape and comfort.
“They’re like sponges and a biofilm builds on the surface of the lens no matter how clean you keep them. This is a breeding ground for germs,” Goodhew said.
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If you’re bad with replacing lenses, switch to dailies. He said people have 50 per cent fewer infections from using daily disposable lenses because they’re placing a pristine, new lens in their eye each day.
Mistake 4: Wearing contacts in pools, in hot tubs or while showering
Bacteria, parasites and other organisms tend to lurk in hot tubs or swimming pools. Chan says he’s seen infections in patients after wearing their contacts after water-related activities.
“It’s not particularly common, but in this situation, what ends up happening is the contact lens – in addition to being on the eye – is like a big sponge, and it allows organisms to sit on the eye and flourish,” Chan warned.
“For another person not wearing contacts, there would be nothing for [the germs] to grab hold of,” Chan said.
He suggests that if you’re wearing contacts while in the water, to keep your eyes closed, pat dry your eyes and clean your lenses thoroughly to make sure any bacteria is killed.
Mistake 5: Keeping contacts on when eyes are visibly irritated
If you place the lens onto your eye, and you feel pain or discomfort, take them off right away. Sometimes, small cracks can be seen along the contact’s edge. In other cases, a tear can form in the middle of the lens that’s less obvious. If it’s dirt or sediment, your contact can be rinsed, but if you leave your contacts on with this tear or dirt, you could be scratching your eye.
During allergy season, those with severe allergies might even consider taking a break from contacts. The pollen, dander and other allergens can stick to your lenses.
READ MORE: Contact lens abuse – why we do it and the potential dangers
“Your eye might be red and uncomfortable but you push through those symptoms and ignore the signals your eye is giving you,” Goodhew warned.
“That’s when things get dangerous. You have to stop wearing [contacts] for 24 hours and keep a pair of backup glasses with you at all times,” he said.