Whether you're new to contact lenses or have been wearing them for a while, it's always good to double-check your hygiene practices. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 45 million Americans choose to wear contact lenses—for plenty of good reasons.
The lenses move with your eye, giving you a natural field of view. You don't have to deal with frames that may obstruct or distort your vision. Contact lenses don't fog up or get splattered with rain, and they are more convenient than glasses for sports or other physical activities.
However, professionals from the CDC to your local eye doctor caution that wearing contact lenses may increase your chance of getting an eye infection if you don't practice strict safety precautions.
Like regular eyeglasses, contact lenses can correct nearsightedness or farsightedness and astigmatism, but unlike regular glasses, they are medical devices that sit directly on your eye. "And that makes all the difference," says David Meyer, OD, FAAO, director of Contact Lens Services at John A. Moran Eye Center .
Contact Lenses: Best Practices
Meyer lists these basic practices—all of which are critically important:
- Don't sleep in your contact lenses unless your provider prescribes it. Sleeping in contact lenses may increase the risk of an eye infection. In fact, "overwearing" contact lenses is the most common mistake people make. Whether they are daily, bi-weekly, or monthly contact lenses, people tend to wear them longer than recommended, increasing chances of bacterial infection, contact lens breakdown, and dry eye issues.
- Always wash your hands with soap and water and dry them with a clean cloth before touching your contact lenses.
- Avoid getting water in or on your contact lenses, as it can introduce germs through the lenses. Take your lenses out before swimming, and don't wear them when showering.
- Avoid getting makeup from your hands or face on your contacts.
- Clean your lenses the right way each time you remove them. That means using a doctor-recommended contact lens disinfecting solution—never saliva or water—to clean them. Store-brand or generic solutions increase the risk of an allergic reaction and might be inferior when it comes to cleaning.
- Don't mix or "top off" fresh cleaning solution with the old or used solution. That's kind of like bathing in yesterday's bathwater.
- Use only contact lens solution to clean your contact lens case. Let it air dry completely and replace it at least once every three months.
- Never order contacts online without first seeing an eye doctor and getting a prescription.
Keep up with your contact lens regimen with these tips
Meyer also offers a couple of little tricks to help contact lens wearers keep up with their regimens:
- Set an alarm to remind you when to throw away your contacts (every two weeks or once a month).
- Put your contact lens case next to your toothpaste to remind you to take your lenses out at night.
- Schedule yearly eye exams.
"In addition to practicing good hygiene, contact lens wearers have to take extra care to ensure that their eyes stay healthy. That's the reason we recommend yearly eye exams for those patients. We also recommend scheduling your next appointment in advance, so you don't go too long between visits."
During a yearly exam, your doctor will:
- Ensure the lenses are still the right fit and are not causing damage to your eyes.
- Make sure the lenses allow enough oxygen to reach your eyes.
- Monitor the risk or presence of an eye infection.
- Detect signs of dryness or scarring that a poor-fitting lens can cause.
- Evaluate the way the lens interacts with your cornea, eyelids, and tear film to maintain your eye's overall health.
"Take care of your contact lenses, and they'll do their job," Meyer says. "Once you establish 'best practices,' it's easy."