I don’t know who the first person was who thought sticking a piece of plastic on their eye would help their vision, but they sure hit on a big idea. Since the invention of contact lenses, hundreds of millions of people around the world have tried them out, and most of those people have misused their lenses in some way. Today I’m going to tell you about some of the most common and the most dangerous ways people have misused their contacts and what the results of that misuse could be.
SLEEPING IN CONTACT LENSES
Almost everybody does it at one point or another, but the biggest offenders are teenage and twenty-something females. Since Alcon first received FDA approval for a lens that could be worn consecutively for 30 nights, the practice of sleeping in contact lenses has become more popular than ever. At the same time more and more doctors are warning against sleeping in lenses.
The problem with sleeping in lenses is that it is the number one cause of infective corneal ulcers, which are severe eye infections. At best, corneal ulcers are extremely painful and costly to treat, and at worst could lead to the need for a corneal transplant or even loss of the entire eye. The reason overnight lens wear is so dangerous is because the lens on the eye provides a surface to which bacteria can cling. While sleeping, the environment underneath the eyelid is warm and moist--the perfect environment for bacteria to grow. Almost everyone who gets an infective corneal ulcer wakes up in the morning with it after having slept in their contact lenses. This risk is the same whether the lenses have been approved for overnight wear or not. The risk is also not cumulative, meaning it could happen on the very first night you sleep in your lenses or you may sleep in your lenses every night for 20 years without an incident, but every night the risk is the same.
RINSING LENSES WITH SOMETHING OTHER THAN CONTACT LENS SOLUTION
I like to hope this one is rare because this one is truly dangerous. You might as well pick up a big jar of bacteria and dump it in your eye. In every water source there are infectious agents that may be harmless in your stomach but can cause devastation in the eyes. Some of the worst ways of cleaning lenses include rinsing in tap water or a water fountain, rinsing with homemade saline, and maybe worst of all is rinsing in the mouth.
Picture this: you’re in high school and your contact lens came out but you don’t have any lens solution. Your options are to rinse it in the bathroom sink, rinse it in a water fountain, or rinse it in your mouth. Any one of these options may lead to the worst eye infection you or anyone you know has ever had, maybe even leading to a corneal transplant or eye removal. Here’s two better options: find a school nurse who may have contact lens solution in her office, or throw the contact lens away. Never, ever for any reason rinse soft contacts in anything other than contact lens solution!
WEARING A PAIR OF CONTACT LENSES LONGER THAN PRESCRIBED
Money’s tight, the lenses still seem alright, why not just keep on wearing them? Contact lenses break down over time which causes the eyes to become less healthy, less able to defend themselves, and more likely to get an eye infection. Has your eye doctor ever looked at your eyes and then asked how long you had your last pair of lenses? We aren’t psychic--we see the damage caused by contact lens overwear. Two-Week lenses are FDA approved for two week wear for a reason.
WEARING SOMEONE ELSE'S CONTACT LENSES
Just like any other exchange of body fluids, you run the risk of catching diseases, viruses, or plain old pink eye. Do you think it would be gross to use someone else’s toothbrush? Well it is even grosser to wear a contact lens that has been in someone else’s eye.
BUYING WHICHEVER SOLUTION IS ON SALE
Your eye doctor probably recommended a specific lens solution for you to use based on compatibility with the lens, compatibility with your eyes, and proven effectiveness in clinical trials. Different contact lens solutions can be the difference between safe, comfortable lens wear and red, irritated eyes that result in someone choosing to give up on contacts. Also, when a problem does arise related to your contact lens wear then it is easier to troubleshoot if you have used a single solution consistently rather than going from one solution to the next.
Contact lenses are a great advance in eye care, but they come with a host of pitfalls that must be avoided. People who ignore the advice of their eye care providers may find themselves experiencing a range of eye problems all the way from minor irritation to severe infections that require surgery. By listening to the instructions of your eye care provider you can expect to wear your lenses safely and comfortably for many years.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.