8 Dangerous Contact Lens Mistakes You Don't Know You're Making

Rachel Grumman Bender

Less-than-stellar contact lens hygiene could put you at risk for serious infection. (Photo by Getty Images)

When you first started using contact lenses, chances are you had the best intentions and were vigilant about keeping your lenses clean and properly cared for. But eventually, you started to slack off. Maybe you fell into the habit of taking out your lenses without washing your hands. Or maybe you started going to sleep without removing them first. Sound familiar? 

These scenarios may seem fairly harmless, but they could have more serious consequences than you realized. 

The majority of contact lens users don’t use proper hygiene and that puts them at risk of eye infections, including inflammation of the cornea called keratitis. One type of keratitis, called microbial keratitis, can occur when bacteria, viruses and even amebae invade the cornea. Research shows that each year there are 930,000 doctor’s office and outpatient clinic visits, as well as 58,000 emergency department visits, for keratitis or contact lens disorders. In severe cases, keratitis can lead to blindness or the need for corneal transplant.

Talk about an eye-opener. To raise awareness about the risks of not properly caring for your contacts, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is declaring this Contact Lens Health Week. Here’s a look at what you’re doing wrong when it comes to contact lenses — and what you should do instead.

You clean your lenses or case with water. “A lot of people are not aware that you’re not able to wash contact lenses in water,” Vivian Phan, senior optometrist at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute, told Yahoo Health. In fact, water can cause soft contact lenses to change shape, swell and stick to the eye, according to the CDC. This can lead to the contact lens scratching the cornea, giving germs easy access to your eye where they can cause an infection. Contact lenses should also never be worn while swimming, showering or in a hot tub, and cases should never be washed in water. “You should clean out your case with fresh contact lens solution, wipe it out and let it dry completely, upside-down,” says Phan.

You top off the old solution in your lens case with new solution. You may think there’s no harm in adding some new contact lens solution to the old solution in your lens case, but you’d be wrong. “This causes the disinfectant to lose its effectiveness,” Elmer Tu, M.D., spokesperson for theAmerican Academy for Ophthalmology and professor of clinical ophthalmology at University of Illinois at Chicago, told Yahoo Health. “Change the solution every day,” he says.

You don’t clean out your lens case after each use.Every single time you use your contact lens case, you need to rinse it out with fresh solution and let it dry, notes Phan. Is it a hassle? Sure. But “otherwise, a little layer will build up on bottom called biofilm,” explains Phan — and that could put your eyes at risk for infection.

(Photo by Stocksy)

You’ve had the same contact lens case for a year. In most cases, being frugal and loyal is a good thing — but not when it comes to your contact lens case. You should replace your case every three months, according to Phan. “The No. 1 cause of infection is having a dirty case,” she says. In fact, research shows that not replacing your case in six months increases your risk of moderate to severe microbial keratitis by more than fivefold.

You don’t wash your hands before touching your lenses. It seems obvious that there might be infection-causing bacteria lingering on your hands, yet many people don’t wash up with soap and water before reaching in their eyes to touch their lenses. When you touch contact lenses with unwashed hands — say, your lens is bothering you so you remove it and place it back in — “it leaves a residue on the surface on the lens, and then you’re placing bacteria back in the eye,” says Tu. 

You let your contact lenses sit in the same solution for days. If you wear glasses during the week and pop in your contacts only on the weekend to play sports, for example, you may leave your contacts in the same stagnant solution all week without giving it much thought. But that’s a big no-no. “Solution should be replaced every single day of the week,” says Phan. Rather than having to change the solution every day when you don’t use contacts daily, Phan recommends opting for one-day disposable lenses you can use as needed without having to store or clean them.

(Photo by Getty Images)

You sleep with your contact lenses in. Unless your eye doctor has given you the green light to keep them in at night, take out your contacts before bed. Research shows leaving them in overnight, even just occasionally, ups the chances of keratitis. 

You use a natural cleaning solution. “This is one time where it’s better not to go natural,” notes Phan. “Don’t use anything that’s not FDA-approved for contact lenses.” If you have eye allergies or sensitivities, Phan recommends using one-day disposable contacts or peroxide-based solutions, which have fewer preservatives.