Save your sight: Sounding the alarm on improper contact lens use

Proper contact lens safety can save you from future vision problems.

Stream ContactsOptometrists with the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences are answering questions to help save one’s sight and know the do’s and don’ts of proper contact lens use.

What kinds of issues/consequences can occur if contact lenses and cases are not used or cleaned properly?

“Improper use or cleaning of contact lenses can have serious repercussions for the health of the eye,” said Carrie Smith, O.D., an optometrist at the UAB Callahan Eye Pelham Clinic

Smith recommends not sleeping in contacts, not wearing lenses past the appropriate replacement schedule, and not swimming or showering in lenses. She also says not washing hands before handling contacts can increase the risk of contact lens-related infections. At the very least, these infections are painful and require treatment; but if severe, they can result in permanent vision loss.

What is the best way to maintain clean contacts/contact cases for those with biweekly or monthly contact lenses?

“Always make sure to remove and clean contact lenses daily, wash and dry hands thoroughly prior to handling lenses, and only use fresh contact lens solutions and a clean contact lens case for storage,” Smith said. “Also, consider switching to a hydrogen peroxide-based contact lens cleaning system a few nights per week to keep lenses cleaner and feeling their best.”

Is water safe to use for cleaning contacts?

“It is never safe to use water, homemade cleaning solutions or non-sterile solutions with your contact lenses,” Smith said. “Allowing your contacts to come into contact with water and non-approved solutions will not only cause contacts to be uncomfortable but will also increase the risk of eye infection.”

Smith says that, even though water may look clean, there are germs lurking in our water sources that can be harmful to the eye. Of particular concern is a condition known as Acanthamoeba keratitis, which is a rare but serious eye infection that can result from water contamination in contact lens wearers.

“It can lead to permanent damage to the cornea and vision loss, so it’s best to play it safe,” she said.

How safe is reusing old solution?

“While it may be tempting to ‘top off’ old solution instead of replacing it every day, you definitely shouldn’t,” Smith said. “Over time, used contact lens solutions and cases can become a breeding ground for germs.”

Contact lens wearers should dispose of used solution daily, rinse the case with fresh solution, and allow the case to air-dry upside down on a clean tissue. Contact lens cases should be replaced every three months, even if they look clean, as germs can build up in your case over time.