or anyone who's been annoyed by having to push glasses up the bridge of their nose or contend with wonky, uneven frames, getting contact lenses can be a completely liberating experience.
Since they move with your eye, contact lenses give you a full field of vision wherever you look, plus they're easy to use and comfortable to wear.
But in order to enjoy those freedoms, you do need to practice proper care when it comes to cleaning and wearing contact lenses.
According to a survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly all respondents confessed to at least one contact lens behavior that's linked to eye infections.
The reality is that it doesn't take much to reduce your risk of infection and safely wear contact lenses—if you follow these five best practices. Your contact lenses should know.
Do you often try to get one more day out of your daily disposables, or an extra week out of your monthly contacts?
Using contact lenses past their recommended usage period is a very common—and potentially very serious—mistake. “We see many complications related to overwear in my practice,” says Ann Madden, O.D., an optometrist at the Grossnickle Eye Center in Indiana.
Overuse can cause the lens to degrade and protein to build up in the eye. This can cause allergic reactions and reduce the oxygen permeability of the lens (the cornea needs oxygen to stay healthy), potentially leading to infections and other damage.
Squeezing an extra day or two out of daily disposable lenses can be problematic because daily disposables are packed in a sterile solution designed to mirror your own natural tears.
"That tear film gives you more comfort and your best vision,” explains, Vice President of Professional Affairs, North America, Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc. “But when you stretch a daily disposable lens, you have to clean that lens, and you lose those benefits." Plus, disposables can also become significantly drier after a day or two of use.
Bottom line: Be diligent about following your contact lens' recommended wear schedule and usage instructions.
Water can cause soft contact lenses to change shape, swell and stick to the cornea. “This can irritate the eyes, making them susceptible to infection,” Dr. Madden says.
This is why you should never rinse or store your reusable contacts in water, and always use an appropriate contact lens solution.
The same goes for exposing your soft contact lenses to water while showering and swimming—even a short time in water can expose your contact lenses to bacteria that may be harmful.
There's also an amoeba that lives in both fresh and tap water, called Acanthamoeba, that can fester underneath the contact lens and lead to a serious infection.
The good news it that this type of infection is rare—only about one to 21 infections occur per million contact lens wearers—but it can be extremely painful and even cause blindness in the most extreme cases.
“Even though it’s rare, it’s so devastating that it’s not worth taking the risk,” Dr. Madden says.
The key to keeping reusable contact lenses germ-free is to rub them between your fingers (wash your hands with soap and water first!) when you clean them with a disinfecting solution recommended by your eye doctor. With this move, you’re literally rubbing away microbes and other deposits. Then give them a good rinse with the solution.
And speaking of cleanliness, remember this mantra: contacts first, makeup second.
Of course, you can sidestep the cleaning process entirely if you opt for daily disposables, which you never have to clean since you dispose of them after every wear and start with a fresh pair each day.
And speaking of cleanliness, remember this mantra: contacts first, makeup second. Insert your contact lenses before putting on makeup, and remove them before washing off your makeup. This reduces the chance that bacteria and particles from mascara, eye shadow and other cosmetics will get onto your lenses.
Your case needs to be as clean as your contacts. If it's not, biofilms, or layers of bacteria, can build up, potentially infecting your reusable lenses.
In fact, research suggests that proper case cleaning could cut the number of serious infections in half.
Here's the best method: Pour out any solution you have in your case—you want to get rid of used solution, rather than top it off the next time you use it. Then rub the inside of the case with clean fingers, rinse with solution, dry with a tissue and store upside down, without the cap on.
Lastly, replace your case every three months. An easy way to remember: Buy a bunch at once, and change cases on the first day of every new season.
Sleeping with your contact lenses can be risky because it ups your chance of getting a corneal infection called microbial keratitis, which is a bacterial infection that can cause pain, redness and blurred vision.
This can happen due to a combination of a potential buildup of pollutants on the contact lens, a lack of eye and lid movement while you sleep, and less oxygen getting to your eye, which your cornea needs to stay healthy.
Keep these tips in mind and visit your eye doctor regularly—usually once per year, if you wear contact lenses—and you can count on healthy contacts and healthy eyes.