keeping eyes healthy wearing contacts

Contact lenses can be a safe and effective way for people to enjoy good and comfortable vision without glasses.

However, you need to know how to use and care for your contacts properly. Otherwise, you could cause severe, even permanent eye problems.

“Contact lenses are medical devices,” says Deepinder K. Dhaliwal, MD, LAc, chief, Cornea and Refractive Surgery Divisions, UPMC Vision Institute. “They’re pieces of very sophisticated plastic that we put in our eyes, and they definitely have risk.”

Learn how you can keep your eyes healthy while wearing contacts.

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Why Contact Lens Safety Is Important

It’s important to know how to take care of your contact lenses — and your eyes. Improper use and care of contacts can lead to eye infections or ulcers.

The most common type of infection is keratitis, an inflammation of the cornea (the outer layer of your eye that covers the colored portion). There are several different types of keratitis, caused by different types of germs — bacteria, amoebas, viruses, or fungi.

Eye infections can cause many different symptoms, including:

  • Redness and irritation.
  • Pain, even after removing your contact lenses.
  • Light sensitivity.
  • Blurry vision.
  • Watery eyes or watery discharge from eyes.

Contact lenses can cause other complications, like allergies, dry eyes, and scratches or scrapes on the cornea.

If you notice anything wrong with your eyes, contact your doctor immediately. Many eye conditions are treatable if diagnosed and treated quickly. But some conditions can cause severe, even permanent damage — including blindness — if not diagnosed early.

Contact Lens Safety Tips

You can lower your risk of contact lens complications with proper use and care of your contacts.

“The bottom line is that if you use contact lenses incorrectly, you can get into trouble,” Dr. Dhaliwal says.

Here are 10 ways you can keep your contacts and eyes safe.

1. Get your contacts from a reputable source.

If you decide to get contact lenses, you should get them from a trustworthy source. If you need them for your vision, get the correct prescription for your vision.

The same holds true if you’re wearing contacts for cosmetic reasons — get a prescription for lenses that fit the shape of your eyes. Dr. Dhaliwal says some people who wear contact lenses for cosmetic purposes get them from unregulated sources, such as drugstores. This can lead to severe eye problems.

“This is a big problem,” Dr. Dhaliwal says. “If you are going to wear colored contact lenses, please get them fit by a provider and make sure they’re FDA-approved contact lenses. The quality of the lenses is completely different between regulated and unregulated contact lenses.”

2. Ask your doctor about proper use and care.

When you get your contact lenses, talk to your doctor about the best way to wear them and care for them. Follow their advice to avoid running into problems.

Likewise, if you need to use eye drops or a medication for your eyes, talk to your doctor to make sure it won’t affect your contact lenses.

3. Keep your contact lenses clean.

Make sure you keep your contacts clean by washing your hands before handling them and using the proper contact lens solution. When you wash your hands, make sure you dry them completely before touching your lenses to avoid getting them wet.

4. Never use tap water on your contact lenses or case.

Although we may think tap water is completely clean, that’s not always the case. An amoeba called acanthamoeba lives in many different water sources.

If you rinse your contact lenses or your case in tap water, you risk an infection called acanthamoeba keratitis. The acanthamoeba from the tap water infects your cornea and can cause severe damage to your eye, including potential blindness.

“Acanthamoeba keratitis is devastating,” Dr. Dhaliwal says. “If you get tap water on the contact lens, you’re at much greater risk for this infection.”

You should only clean your contact lenses with the approved contact lens solution. When you put your contacts in, dump out the solution from your case, wipe your case out, and let it air-dry. Do not wash your case with tap water.

5. Don’t shower or go swimming in contact lenses.

Just as rinsing your contact lenses in tap water can cause acanthamoeba keratitis, so can leaving your contact lenses in when you shower, go swimming, go in a hot tub, or participate in another activity where your contact lenses could get wet.

Bottom line: Water and contact lenses do not mix.

6. Think about contact lens storage.

Make sure you keep your contact lens case in a place where it can’t get wet accidentally. Avoid storing your case on a sink, where water may inadvertently splash onto it.

7. Don’t sleep in your contacts.

Before you go to bed at night, make sure you take out your contacts. Outside of rare exceptions, contact lenses are not meant to be worn while you sleep. Forgetting to take your contacts out before bed could lead to problems.

“Overnight wear of contact lenses has been associated as the No. 1 risk factor for contact lens-associated infections,” Dr. Dhaliwal says.

8. Replace your contact lenses regularly.

As a contact ages, the integrity of the plastic is compromised. Just like a tire can wear out, so can a lens. Wearing an old lens can cause complications.

“Probably the safest type of contact lens is a daily disposable contact lens,” Dr. Dhaliwal says. “You put it in in the morning, and you throw it away at night. You don’t have to store it, you don’t have to clean it.”

You also may want to consider replacing your contact lens case on a regular basis as well.

9. Don’t rub your eyes.

Do not rub your eyes while wearing contact lenses. Rubbing your eyes while wearing lenses could cause damage to the cornea.

If you need to rub your eyes, take your contacts out first. Or if itchy eyes are a common problem, talk to your doctor about eye drops. Chronic eye rubbing can lead to eye damage and should be avoided.

10. If you have redness or irritation, remove your contact lenses and call your doctor.

If your eye has any problem, even if it seems small, you should not insert your contact. You should notify your eye care provider immediately. Even minor symptoms could be a sign that you have a problem with your eyes.

Experts at the UPMC Vision Institute can diagnose and treat a wide variety of eye-related conditions. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 412-647-2200 or 1-800-446-3797 or visit us online.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC Vision Institute

The UPMC Vision Institute is a national leader in the treatment of eye diseases and disorders. We seek to improve and restore your vision to help your quality of life, diagnosing and treating a wide range of conditions in both children and adults. Our treatments include both surgical and nonsurgical options. We also offer routine eye screenings and have full-scale optical shops. Find an eye expert close to you.