What My Optometrist Never Told Me

What My Optometrist Never Told Me

It is with slight embarrassment that I write this article because I’ve been a victim of my own ignorance and laziness regarding my own eye health. In fact, I’m writing it while sitting in my ophthalmologist’s office, waiting for the doctor to examine my corneal ulcer that is most likely caused by sleeping in my contacts.

I started wearing my contact lenses about a year ago. I was told, as most of us have been, to never sleep with my contacts in. In the beginning, I was very conscientious about how I handled my lenses. I always changed them, properly cleaned them and never even napped in them, let alone wear them at night. But as time wore on and as I got more accustomed to the lenses in my eyes, I got lazy. I occasionally slept in them and didn’t change them out as often as I should. And this is why I find myself spending this beautiful fall afternoon in my ophthalmologist’s office.

Yes, my optometrist told me not to sleep in my lenses, but I was never told exactly why. Like any other stubborn young adult, if I don’t know why I shouldn’t do something, it’s more difficult to follow the rules. Now that my red, swollen, and painful eye and I have been prescribed the pleasure of an antibiotic eye drop to be used every hour, 24 hours a day for the next several days, however, I get it.

In the United States, an estimated 40 million people wear contact lenses. Recent surveys about contact lens hygiene, however, show that large percentages of people do not adhere to medical guidelines for wearing contacts. A 2010 survey by the American Optometric Association shows that only a quarter of Americans who wear daily disposable contact lenses replace them every day as recommended.

Only 58 percent say they clean and disinfect their contact lenses with an appropriate solution. Twenty-three percent say they soak or clean lenses in water (a big no-no), and 12 percent store their contacts in something other than a typical storage case. And finally, 25 percent of people report wearing their lenses while sleeping, a category that I unfortunately fall into.

Though contacts are proven to be among the safest forms of vision correction, this is only true when they are worn properly and used correctly. Some consequences for failing to do so include various bacterial and fungal infections, corneal abrasions, swelling and ulcerations. These complications occur more commonly than many contact lens users realize and are relatively easy to avoid if you use proper contact lens hygiene.

When caring for your contact lenses, the most important things to do are read directions, listen to your doctor and ask questions. Here are a few recommendations:

1. Always wash and dry your hands before handling contacts.

2. Store lenses in the proper lens storage case, and replace your case every three months or sooner. Clean the case after each use, and keep it open and dry when not in use. Using anything other than an appropriate storage case can allow bacteria to grow in or near the contacts.

3. Only use a fresh solution to clean and store contact lenses, and never re-use old solution.

4. Contact lenses must be cleaned to remove secretions, films or deposits, while disinfectants are required to destroy germs. Only use recommended products to clean and disinfect your lenses.

5. Never use water to rinse lenses or put contact lenses in your mouth to rinse them. This sounds gross, but I swear I’ve seen it. Both water and saliva can contaminate lenses with microorganisms.

6. Always follow the recommended contact lens replacement schedule.

7. Remove contacts before swimming or entering a hot tub.

8. Never sleep in your contacts unless they are specifically labeled “extended wear” lenses.

Remember that contact lenses and solutions used are medical devices regulated and approved by the FDA, and need to be properly cared for just like any other medical device.

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