How to properly care for your contact lenses

UAB School of Optometry expert explains ways to properly care of your contact lenses.

Contact Lens Care 1Contact lenses are an easy, safe and visually appealing way for millions of people to correct their vision. Many do not think twice about putting the thin, clear lens on their eye.

But do you know how to properly care for your contact lenses?

John Laurent, O.D., Ph.D., optometrist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry and UAB Eye Care, shares tips for keeping your lenses and eyes clean, safe and comfortable. 

Q: What is the proper way to care for contact lenses?

“Always wash and dry your hands prior to handling your contact lenses. The very best type of contact lens is a daily disposable one that requires virtually no care other than insertion, removal and disposal,” Laurent explained. “Always avoid tap water for cleaning lenses — lenses need to be cleaned each time they are removed with only a multipurpose solution and then stored in a disinfecting solution in a clean case.” 

For UAB Eye Care patient Ryan Parris of Madison, Alabama, not caring for his lenses led to a severe eye infection and subsequent problems; he underwent a specific eye-drop regimen to clear his infection and now wears specially fit scleral contact lenses from where his vision was impacted. When in college as a busy athlete, Parris would often clean his contact lenses with tap water or even bottled water instead of solution. 

“Within a week of washing my lenses in tap water, one of my eyes was progressively getting more infected and worse,” Parris remembered. “The infection became so severe that, once I was able to see a doctor, I almost ran the risk of having to get a cornea transplant.”

Q: What are some common misconceptions about contact lenses?

“The most common misperception about contact lenses is that they are relatively harmless, should be available without prescription and require very little care. Some individuals should not wear some types of lenses — having the correct type of lens for your eyes is important,” Laurent said. “Contact lenses that are not handled and disinfected properly can cause serious eye infections that might result in permanent vision loss. Proper instruction in the care and handling of contact lenses is essential.

“Another misperception is that anyone who requires glasses for good vision could instead wear contact lenses if desired. Depending on the type of optical correction required, contact lenses might or might not be able to provide good vision. Also, not all eyes have the same shape and physiological requirements — it may not be possible to achieve a satisfactory contact lens fit on some eyes.” 

Contact2Ryan ParrisQ: What if I only have tap water to wash my lenses?

“Do not rinse or store your contact lenses in tap water — only approved cleaning solutions,” Laurent urged. “Most soft contact lenses are around 25-50 percent water and will soak up any solution they contact. Tap water is not physiologically compatible with the eye and, more importantly, may contain organisms capable of causing blindness. Water that we drink may have organisms that are killed by the acid in our stomachs, while these same organisms — if allowed to come in contact with the eye — might cause serious infection.”

Contact lens cleaning and disinfecting solutions are available at most all pharmacies and grocery stores. Laurent cautions that there is no good excuse to not have the proper solutions for your contact lenses. If need be, he recommends throwing your lenses out after removing and wearing glasses until you can buy new solution. 

In Parris’ situation, he was unaware that tap water could pose a threat to his eye.

“I never thought that water could be unsafe, but there are so many different types of bacteria in tap water that we aren’t aware of. It’s just not safe to put that in your eye,” Parris explained. “The chances may be slim that something could go wrong, but why run the risk? Wear your glasses if need be, and get to the store when you can to buy clean, safe solution.” 

Q: I sleep in my contact lenses. Is that bad?

“Leaving one’s contact lenses on while sleeping is very convenient but very dangerous for most people. In fact, the risk for serious eye infection goes up dramatically when sleeping in lenses,” Laurent noted. “In spite of new advances in contact lens materials, there are no lenses that are safe to wear while sleeping.”

Q: Is it bad to wear my dailies more than one day?

“The advantage of daily disposable contact lenses is that there is a clean, new lens on the eye each day. Lenses that are reused carry the risk of contamination even from handling during the process of cleaning and disinfection,” Laurent explained. “Some of the daily disposable lenses are more fragile than reusable lenses and are not meant to be used more than once.”