Contact lenses are medical devices that provide a great alternative to wearing glasses. But unlike glasses which sit in front of your eyes, contact lenses actually "contact" the surface of your eye. When fitted properly contact lenses can be worn safely without problems. But if the contact is too large, too small, too tight, too loose, made of poor material, not replaced appropriately, or not cleaned properly among other things the result can be devastating to your eye health or vision.
Not All Contact Lenses Fit Alike
Like shoes, one size of contact lens does not fit all. Even daily disposable contact lenses need a proper lens fitting, as lens materials and curvatures vary from one brand to the next. If a person complains of contact lenses that feel dry within a couple hours of applying them, they are actually wearing contact lenses that are not an ideal fit. Many factors can affect a lens fit, including eye shape, medications, allergens in the environment, hormone changes, length of wear time. Some people are also sensitive to preservatives in eye drops or cleaning solutions, which can impact the comfort of contact lens wear.
Potential Dangers of Contact Lens Wear
We all know how painful it is when there something gets in our eye. There are many nerve endings in the front of the eye. When your eyes water, that is the body's way of trying to remove foreign objects like dust, dirt, and allergens from the eyes. Any object that comes into contact with the eye (especially fingers), brings a risk to the eye - and that risk includes contact lenses. Poor hygiene while using contact lenses can create very small scratches on the surface of the eye. This allows bacteria to enter into the eye which can lead to serious infections and permanent damage to the eye and vision.
According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 20% of patients that reported infections of the cornea related to contact lenses had a corneal scar, a decrease in visual acuity or needed a corneal transplant as a result of the infection. Further, 25% of infections involved poor contact lens hygiene, which means they likely could have been prevented.
Dangerous Behaviors that Put Contact Lens Users At Risk
Here are some of the most dangerous contact lens habits that should be avoided to eliminate your risk of eye damage or a potentially blinding eye infection.
- Failing to wash your hands with soap and dry them before applying or removing lenses.
- Rinsing contacts or your lens case with tap water, sterile water or other substances.
- Re-using solution or topping off the solution in your lens case rather than emptying it, cleaning it and refilling it.
- Failing to remove lenses before swimming or entering a hot tub.
- Leaving in contact lenses too long or sleeping in contacts that are not meant to sleep in.
- Failing to follow the wearing schedule prescribed by your eye doctor.
- Using the same lens case for too long (it should be cleaned regularly and replaced around every three months).
- Wearing lenses that are not obtained with a prescription through an eye doctor or legally authorized contact lens distributor.
- Ironically, as you can see, water is one of the biggest dangers for contact lens wearers at it can harbor dangerous bacteria under the lens or in a contaminated lens case. These dangers can be easily avoided by following your eye doctor’s instructions in handling and wearing your contact lenses.
Cosmetic/Decorative Contact Lenses
With Halloween on the way it’s important to stress that you should ONLY purchase contact lenses from an eye doctor or legally authorized contact lens seller with a prescription. Even if you are purchasing purely decorative contact lenses with no vision correction, you need a doctor to measure your eye to ensure they fit properly. Contact lenses are a medical device and it is illegal to sell them without proper authorization. Therefore you should never purchase them from a costume or party store - they are unregulated and could cause serious harm to your eyes and vision.
If you notice any unusual redness, discharge, crusting, light sensitivity or pain, immediately remove your contact lenses and go see your eye doctor as soon as possible. Some serious eye infections can cause permanent vision damage or loss even within a day or two.
While you should not approach contact lens use as a dangerous activity, it is important to understand the importance of proper hygiene and use. As long as you obtain contact lenses safely and follow the instructions of your eye doctor, contact lenses are a safe, convenient and effective option for vision correction.