Can I Wear Contacts With Pink Eye?
The dreaded pink eye. An unsightly condition that causes a lot of itching, redness and excessive tearing.
You may notice that your eye doesn't look great, or a doctor may diagnose you with pink eye. Either way, one of your first questions might be "Can I wear contacts with pink eye?" This definitely isn't an uncommon question, since millions of people wear contact lenses in the United States alone.
So what's the answer? Before you can understand if pink eye and contacts go together, you need to know more about pink eye itself.
What Is Pink Eye?
Pink eye is the common name for the eye condition called "conjunctivitis."
The conjunctiva is a thin membrane that lines the inside of your eyelids and covers the white part of your eye (the sclera). It works to keep your eye lubricated, and protects the eye from debris, dust, and bacteria. It also prevents irritation due to friction between your eyelid and your eyeball.
Conjunctivitis (aka pink eye) is when this membrane becomes infected and inflamed.
Causes of Pink Eye
Although the conjunctiva is transparent, it contains blood vessels. When it gets infected and inflamed, these blood vessels get bigger. The inflammation is what leads to the reddish-pink look that the condition gets its name from.
The causes of pink eye include bacterial infection, a viral infection, or an allergic reaction.
Bacterial conjunctivitis: This is caused by a bacterial infection and is quite contagious. It can also lead to extensive eye damage if left untreated.
Viral conjunctivitis: This arises from viruses (like the common cold) and is very contagious. But it tends to clear up by itself within a few days without medical intervention.
Allergic conjunctivitis: This type is caused by irritants like dust, pollen and animal dander. It usually affects those with allergies on a seasonal (summer flowers) or situational basis (a dusty home or furry pets).
What Are the Symptoms of Pink Eye?
The following are the most common pink eye symptoms:
- Pinkness/redness in the affected eye(s)
- Swollen eyelids
- Green or white eye discharge
- Blurred vision
- Feeling of grit or sand in the eye
- Eye crust
- Photophobia (light sensitivity)
You may have a few or all of these symptoms in one or both eyes. Pink eye is contagious and can spread from one eye to the other. You can also infect others.
The duration of these symptoms depends on the underlying cause. Symptoms usually last between 7-14 days for a viral pink eye. For a bacterial pink eye, you will likely need antibiotics. Symptoms start clearing within 24 hours of starting an antibiotic regimen. Allergic pink eye symptoms resolve once there’s no exposure to the irritants.
Is it OK to Wear Contacts With Pink Eye?
Now we've arrived at the question we need an answer to: can you wear contacts when you have pink eye?
Short answer? No. You shouldn't.
But let's get a bit more detailed with this answer. You need to understand why you shouldn't wear contacts when you have pink eye.
Whatever caused your pink eye (a virus, bacteria, or allergen), may have transferred to your lenses.
So if you're wearing monthly or weekly contact lenses, you'll need to get rid of them. If your contacts have a longer replacement schedule, then you need to remove and thoroughly disinfect them.
If you keep wearing your contacts, this can prolong your pink eye through reinfection.
Contacts Can Make Pink Eye Worse
When your eye is infected and inflamed, it is more sensitive to damage. If you wear contacts when you have pink eye, you could scratch your cornea and make your symptoms worse.
Your contacts will only aggravate your condition. It’s best to forgo them and favor glasses until your eyes get better.
Pink Eye Treatments
Pink eye has a few different treatments. The treatment effectiveness will depend on how you contracted pink eye in the first place. An antibiotic ointment is good for bacterial pink eye, but it won't help a viral form of pink eye.
If you have a viral pink eye, then treatments that alleviate common cold symptoms may be effective. The allergic form of the condition requires that you stop exposure to the irritants.
Keep these things in mind as you try these treatment methods:
Try soaking a cloth or a soft towel in cool water and placing this over your infected eyes. You don't have to press down too hard.
The cool water will help reduce the redness and swelling. It can also soothe some of the irritation and itching you might be feeling. You can use warm water if that feels better.
Wash Your Clothes, Sheets, and More
If an allergen caused your pink eye, that allergen could still be on your clothes, pillowcases, sheets, and towels. Even in the cases of bacterial and viral pink eye, you should be careful to eliminate any sources of reinfection.
Wash everything you come in contact with to prevent yourself from getting irritated or reinfected.
Over-the-counter eye drops can help soothe some of your symptoms. These are usually labelled as lubricating eye drops or artificial tears. They'll reduce the redness, itching, and irritation by keeping your eyes moist and lubricated.
See a Doctor
If your symptoms worsen or don't go away after 3-5 days, then you should see a doctor. This could be a sign that you might need antibiotics to treat your pink eye.
In cases of bacterial pink eye, you'll need to take a course of antibiotics to rid yourself of the infection.
A doctor can prescribe antibiotic ointment or antibiotic eye drops to clear up the condition.
When Can You Wear Contacts After Pink Eye?
Most doctors recommend waiting to wear contacts again until:
- After you've taken your full course of antibiotics
- There is no redness/pinkness in your eye(s)
- You haven't experienced any pink eye symptoms for 24 hours
Please remember to discard or disinfect the contacts you were wearing when you got pink eye. Your contacts case should also be discarded or disinfected.
As well, check that your lens solution is not expired, as it needs to be effective in disinfecting your contacts. You want to avoid reinfection at all costs!
Some forms of pink eye aren’t serious. But pink eye is an uncomfortable and unfortunate thing to experience nevertheless. If you’re wondering, "can I wear contacts with pink eye?" now you know the answer: No, you shouldn’t.
Break out the old glasses and be prepared to get through your infection. Soothe your symptoms with the treatments we mentioned. But seek medical attention if your symptoms worsen or persist.
You can help to prevent pink eye by keeping your contacts clean. Be sure to check out our article that explains how to best clean your contact lenses.