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5 Improper Contact Lens Care Habits That Could Land You in the Emergency Room

Emergency sign on hospital

Improper contact lens care leads to approximately one million eye infections per year. That’s right, one million infections that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are avoidable. All people need to do is to improve their bad habits.

We’ve all been guilty of letting things slide. Who hasn’t skipped washing their hair or flossing their teeth at least once or twice?

But if you’re a contact lens wearer, shortcuts are not an option. You may think, who cares if I leave my contacts in overnight, or use water instead of proper lens cleaning solution? Your eye doctor cares very much and because of the dangers involved, so should you!

A groundbreaking study in 2014 found that 58,000 of those one million eye infections, resulted in visits to the emergency room.

What is causing these frantic dashes to the ER, and what can you do to avoid it? Here are five habits you can easily change to help you stay out of the hospital.

1: Sleeping in Contacts

man sleeping

If you’re a contact lens wearer and you don’t know anything about Keratitis, listen up. Keratitis is an infection of the cornea, the clear dome that covers the center of your eye.

As the outermost lens of the eye, the cornea acts as the light-controlling window. It is both critical for good sight and vulnerable to infection.

When you sleep in contact lenses, bacteria can become lodged between the contact lens and the surface of your eye. With a whole day and night to multiply, it can grow into an infection. Keratitis is a painful inflammation of the eye that can scar the cornea and lead to blindness.

According to experts, those who wear contact lenses overnight are 20 times more likely to get Keratitis. If you have been guilty of this (haven’t we all) and you notice symptoms of infection, you should visit your eye doctor right away. Emergency room visits usually occur when eye infections are not caught and treated early.

2: Bad Contact Lens Hygiene

We’re not here to call anyone out on their personal hygiene standards. But when it comes to contact lens care, poor hygiene can put you at serious risk of developing an eye infection.

Good contact lens hygiene is super simple. We all know we need to wash our hands before handling contact lenses, but more often than not we simply forget. A great way to make good hygiene a habit rather than an idea is to get into a ritual. Each morning you go through the exact same steps until you don’t even need to think about good contact lens hygiene. You just do it!

Put your contact lenses on in the same place every day. In front of a mirror, at the bathroom sink is ideal. Clean the area first and lay out your lenses, lens solution, hand soap and a lint-free towel. Scrub your hands and dry them completely before cleaning your lenses and putting them in.

Follow the same steps every evening, but take the lenses out and either throw them in the trash or place in a clean lens case with cleaning solution.

3: Contacts with Water

contact lens on table in drops of water

Not everyone knows this, but contact lenses are not supposed to come into contact with water.

Your lenses can get wet, of course. When you clean your lenses with solution or store them in a container overnight they get wet. Even in your eyes, your lenses are wet with the natural moisture created by your eye. But water is a different story.

Treated water that comes out of our taps contains various chemicals. These chemicals kill many of the bacteria and other microorganisms that may be harmful to our health. Yet, the chemicals can’t kill every bacterial or microbial element in the water, or remove toxins. The chemicals themselves can also damage our eyes.

Lenses that are wet with water can change shape, swell, or become sticky in the eye. Lenses rinsed in water are also more likely to scratch the cornea. A scratched cornea allows bacteria inside the eye which can have disastrous consequences.

To avoid all this unpleasantness, remove your lenses before you shower, swim or relax in the hot tub. Also, only clean your lenses with contact lens solution.

4: Using Solution Incorrectly

The habit above brings us nicely to a fourth improper contact lens care habit, using contact lens solution incorrectly!

If you use daily-wear contact lenses but haven’t yet made the switch to daily disposables, you have to store your lenses overnight. The only way to store lenses, is in a lens case filled with contact lens solution.

Lens solutions clean and disinfect your lenses, remove protein buildup and provide hydration. For the solution to work, you have to store your lenses in a fresh batch every night.

Never give the solution a top-up, or it will lose its effectiveness. As part of your nightly ritual, you must rinse out your lens case with fresh solution and let it air dry before filling it again. Sound like too much of a hassle? Trust us, it’s worth it.

5: Overusing Lenses

man with eye infection due to improper contact lens care

Keeping contact lenses past their point of usefulness happens quite a bit. In fact, 45% of adults admit to replacing contact lenses at intervals longer than prescribed. Are you one of them?

Whether you use weekly, monthly or quarterly lenses, it’s tempting to push your lenses past their limit. You might even save a bit of money in the process. But wearing your contact lenses past their expiry date can be disastrous for the health of your eyes.

After the date of expiry, the lens manufacturer cannot guarantee the lens is free from contamination. Overwearing your lenses puts you at a higher risk of developing a bacterial infection like Keratitis and makes it easier for you to skip eye exams.

Most lenses come with an expiry date of one year. That’s the time at which your current eye exam will expire. You must get an annual eye exam to ensure your prescription is correct and your overall eye health has not changed.

An easy fix for overusing your lenses is to switch to daily disposables. Opening an individually-packaged, fresh lens each day is the easiest way to minimize improper contact lens care. By doing that, you can better look after the health of your eyes. Using daily disposables will significantly lower your risk of ending up in the ER with a serious eye infection.

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