Contact lens users: Protect your eyes from heat, sun and water this summer at home and on the go

nycu graphic 2Andrew D. Pucker, O.D., Ph.D., gives tips on safe use of contact lenses, including advice on travel, swimming and UV rays.
Written by: Purnima Kasthuri Janarthanan
Media contact: Alicia Rohan, arohan@uab.edu


andrew pucker 2017Andrew D. Pucker, O.D., Ph.D.Travel possibilities are endless during the summer, making it important for contact lens wearers to be prepared no matter their destination.

“While the vast majority of contact lens wearers believe they are compliant, up to 90 percent of patients fail to accurately complete at least one step of their care regimen,” said Andrew D. Pucker, O.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry. “People tend to wear contact lenses for more days than recommended, wear them overnight, expose their lens to tap water and/or fail to fully follow the cleaning instructions given to them by their optometrist.”

Everyday maintenance of soft contact lenses requires the wearer to perform a complex series of steps, which includes following a specified wear schedule — usually daily, biweekly or monthly disposal — and diligently maintaining good hand hygiene, especially while inserting and removing contact lenses.

Contact lens use on the go

Planning ahead as a contact lens wearer will be crucial to the care of your eyes while traveling.  

“Not all travel destinations have the same resources as the United States,” Pucker said. “There are a number of issues that could arise, such as losing a contact lens, encountering an inclement, polluted environment, or not having access to clean water.”

Pucker says contact lens users should remember to take all care devices while traveling, including travel-size care systems and leak-proof contact lens cases in order to save space and avoid contamination. Packing a spare pair of contact lenses and glasses is important in case there is a travel mishap.

“Being prepared when traveling is key to eye safety,” Pucker said.

Swimming with contact lenses

Many contact lens wearers do not remove their contact lenses before swimming, be it in the ocean, in a pool or at a water park. This is not because they fail to remember, but usually because they find it inconvenient or are unable to see well without contact lenses. Pucker highly recommends wearers to remove contact lenses before swimming to avoid potential eye infections.

“It is the safest option for the wearer to follow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommendation to remove contact lenses before swimming in order to avoid an increased risk of developing a microbial keratitis,” Pucker said.

In order to avoid possible eye infections, Pucker recommends certain precautionary methods for swimmers who wear contact lenses:

  • Swimmers should be prescribed daily disposable contact lenses when possible, so they can discard their contaminated contact lenses directly after swimming.
  • Wearers should also use swimming goggles before entering the water.
  • Soft contact lens wearers should discard their lenses after swimming with them even if they are not daily disposable lenses.

“If a user experiences eye redness or discomfort after swimming with the lenses on, he or she should temporarily discontinue wearing contact lenses until the symptoms subside,” Pucker said. “If the condition does not resolve or if it gets worse, the patient should immediately seek medical care from a qualified optometrist or ophthalmologist.”

polarized sunglassesProtecting your eyes from ultraviolet rays

According to a review article published in the Eye & Contact Lens journal, UV light exposure that includes UVA and UVB rays can cause cumulative damage to the eye, which can result in solar crystalline lens — also known as cataracts, corneal and conjunctival lens damage.

To avoid possible eye damage due to harmful UV rays, a combination of multiple protective measures should be adopted to protect the eyes. Pucker advises wearing polarized sunglasses, UV protection contact lenses if applicable and a large-brimmed hat.

“UV-protecting contact lenses protect only part of the eye,” Pucker said. “Sunglasses also provide protection, though neither contact lenses nor sunglasses fully protect the eyes from harmful light; therefore, a combination of measures should be taken such as sunglasses, contact lenses when needed for vision correction, hats and sunscreen, to provide the body maximum protection from the sun’s harmful rays. Children are more susceptible to UV damage than are adults, and so they should always be protected from the sun’s harmful rays with sunscreen, hats, sunglasses and potentially contact lenses.”

Pucker says contact lenses are safe and have many benefits when used properly.

“Though patients are frequently negligent when it comes to their contact lens care habits, it is the job of optometrists, manufacturers and public-health-oriented organizations to continually remind and educate their patients about contact lens safety, so wearers can maintain healthy eyes for a lifetime,” Pucker said.

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