There’s no doubt that contact lenses can be extremely convenient, and many people find them more cosmetically acceptable than wearing spectacles. They can offer better vision for some individuals who are either very long or short sighted, or those with lots of astigmatism (when the eyeball is rugby ball-shaped rather than round like a football). For some patients with certain eye conditions (such as keratoconus), they can offer vastly improved quality of vision than what spectacles can provide. Contact lenses can also be very convenient for certain sporting activities.
But we also know that wearing contact lenses increases the risk of developing infections of the cornea (the clear window on the front of the eye). These can be very serious, especially if not picked up and treated early, and can risk causing irreversible sight loss through scarring of the cornea, or even risk loss of the eye in the most serious cases.
To provide a comprehensive list of do’s and don'ts around contact lenses is beyond the scope of this blog. Here, however, are a few of the most common hygiene issues I find are often overlooked by contact lens wearers who come to my clinic with corneal infections:
1. Swimming, showering and bathing in contact lenses is a bad idea. These put your eye at increased risk of infection, in particular with an organism (bug) called Acanthamoeba which causes a very painful corneal infection which can be particularly difficult to eradicate. Sighted swimming goggles can be easily purchased, and offer a much safer alternative when swimming.
2. Although some contact lenses are marketed for extended wear, there are no contact lenses out there which are completely “safe” to sleep in. Unless a contact lens needs to be left in the eye long-term for medical reasons, I never recommend sleeping in contact lenses because of the increased risk of infection.
3. Poor storage of contact lenses can also result in growth of organisms on the lens case. To minimise risk, follow your optometrist’s advice on cleaning the lenses, and always use a dedicated contact lens solution to store lenses (NEVER tap water – see above!). Better still, use daily disposable contact lenses, and be sure to discard them after each use.
4. Hand hygiene should be impeccable when handling lenses. Hands should be washed, rinsed and thoroughly
dried with a clean, lint-free towel before inserting and removing contact lenses.
5. Keep regular contact lens check-ups with your optometrist, and always have a pair of spectacles handy, should you develop a problem with your contact lenses and need to stop wearing them.
6. Avoid full-time wear, and try to get into the habit of removing the lenses for at least a few hours at the end of each day, and preferably at least one full day a week, to allow the eyes time to "breathe".
It is never possible to completely remove the risks associated with contact lens wear. If, however, you do choose to use them, then it is wise to use them with care and respect, as the irreversible sight loss from contact lens related infections is often avoidable.