Contact Lens Problems
The disposable contact lens has joined the Q-Tip as a personal care item with a very short life. But don't think disposable contact lenses (or any other type) are worry-free just because they're so convenient. Eye doctors say any lens can become contaminated and cause eye damage. Here's how to see your way to eye health.
To be safe, avoid sleeping with lenses in. Even if you have contact lenses that are labeled "extended wear," it doesn't mean you should leave them in every night. According to a study at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and Harvard Medical School in Boston, you raise your risk of ulceration 5 percent for each night you sleep with extended-wear lenses in. The reason: Continuously worn contacts rub away the cornea (the covering of the eyeball). This causes tiny rips that invite infection and may lead to vision loss. Also, covering the cornea for extended periods blocks out oxygen, providing an ideal breeding ground for harmful bacteria.
"My recommendation is to never sleep wearing any lenses, period," says Mitchell H. Friedlaender, M.D., director of the Cornea Service at the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation in La Jolla, California.
Clean and disinfect any time you remove lenses. Whenever you take out your lenses, they must be cleaned as well as disinfected, says Joseph P. Shovlin, O.D., an optometrist at the Northeastern Eye Institute, with headquarters in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and chairman of the Contact Lens Section of the American Optometric Association. And if you wear the disposable kind, be sure to throw them away at the time prescribed by your doctor.
Clean the lens case, too. Scrub the case with hot water every other day with a toothbrush that's used only for that purpose, says Dr. Friedlaender.
Never use homemade saline solutions. Use a fresh solution each day, and use only commercial contact lens preparations. That's because homemade salt solutions might harbor a microorganism that can scar the cornea and cause partial or complete blindness, according to studies at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. And since tap water, distilled water and mineral water are not sterile, they may harbor infection-causing impurities, says Dr. Friedlaender. "Don't use them with contacts."
As for generic hydrogen peroxide, it may contain irritating additives, says Thomas Gossel, Ph.D., R.Ph., professor of pharmacology and toxicology and associate dean at Ohio Northern University College of Pharmacy in Ada.
Stick with one lens-care regimen. A disinfecting/cleaning regimen is always specified for your lens type, says Dr. Gossel, and that shouldn't be changed. If you switch from chemical to heat, for example, chemicals might be "baked into" soft lenses, and that could irritate your eyes. Whatever the recommended procedure, be sure to stick with it!
Never lick your lenses. Saliva is teeming with bacteria. "If you give your lenses a spit bath, you might as well rub your lenses on the floor," according to Dr. Friedlaender.
Makeup first, lenses second. Use water-based, not oil-based, cosmetics, says Dr. Friedlaender, and apply makeup and hair spray before you put in your lenses. Around the eyes, use water-resistant mascara and apply to lash tips only, he adds.
Take out your lenses before swimming. The risk of wearing hard lenses in a pool or tub is that they may float out if your eyes get wet. With soft lenses, impurities in the water might be absorbed, which could cause infection, according to Paul Vinger, M.D., assistant clinical professor of ophthalmology at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "If you need to see underwater, get prescription goggles."
Switch to glasses before that big cleaning job. Remove contacts when using volatile household cleaners, which may be absorbed by the lenses, advises Scott MacRae, M.D., associate professor of ophthalmology at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland and chairman of the Public Health Committee of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "Volatile" cleaners include any cleaner containing ammonia or another strong-smelling chemical.
Remove your contacts if your eyes turn red. If your eyes become irritated, remove your contacts, says Dr. Shovlin. If the irritation doesn't go away after two to three hours, contact your eye-care practitioner. Tears, discharge, redness around the eyes and a change in vision are all indications of eye irritation.