Healthy Body

I’m an Optometrist, and These Are the 7 Most Common Contact Lens Mistakes People Make’

Erin Bunch

Photo: Stocksy/ Marco Govel
As someone who has worn contacts since the seventh grade, I know how difficult it can be to practice perfect contact lens hygiene. It's reasonable to expect a novice to make a mistake or two, but because I'm used to wearing contacts, I have become a bit blasé about the whole thing. And it's been so long since someone instructed me the proper way to care for my lenses—that I regularly do wrong by my peepers in service of correcting my vision. And apparently, I'm not the only one; eye pros say they see contact lens mistakes a lot. 

Below, optometrist Danielle Richardson, OD, the West Coast Director of Clinical Care at Zak, an optical destination that offers comprehensive eye care, curated eyewear, and their own lines of frames—offers the seven contact lens mistakes you might be making.

And it's pretty critical you take note of these problematic behaviors, Dr. Richardson says, because your eyes can otherwise become infected. Eye infection signs can include redness, watering or discharge, irritation, light sensitivity, or pain when removing contact lenses, she says. "Make an appointment with your eye doctor at the first sign of an issue because untreated eye infections can progress and potentially cause vision loss."

Since vision loss likely isn't the goal for someone who goes to the trouble of inserting contacts daily, keep reading for the seven things Dr. Richardson wants you to stop doing, stat.

7 common contact lens mistakes optometrists see people make regularly

1. Sleeping in contact lenses  

While Dr. Richardson notes that some contact brands are FDA-approved for overnight wear, she says it's a bad idea to sleep in lenses regardless. "Patients who sleep in contact lenses are more at risk for eye infections like microbial keratitis and corneal ulcers," she explains.

If it's absolutely necessary to sleep in lenses, she recommends wearing them for no more than six consecutive days before giving your eyes a break. When you wear contacts too long, there's a greater risk that our eyes and contact lenses will dry out, which increases the risk of damage when you finally remove them, the Cleveland Clinic says. So taking them off gives your eyes a break and allows your cornea to breathe, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

2. Using the same contact solution multiple nights in a row 

Um, I'm guilty of this one, but Dr. Richardson has me rethinking my dirtiest habit. She says you should change your fresh solution daily. "I tell patients to think of their contact lens solution as a little hot tub of bacteria. The longer the bacteria hang out in the solution, the more it grows," she says. "You wouldn't put anything from a dirty hot tub on your body and feel clean, so think of your contact lenses in the same way."

You should aim to clean your case and change the contact solution every day, the Cleveland Clinic says. And, while you're at it, the Cleveland Clinic suggests you replace your contact lens case every 3-4 months to reduce bacteria.

3. Inserting or removing contacts with dirty hands

"Any bacteria introduced into the eye has the potential to cause an eye infection," says Dr. Richardson. "When you insert contact lenses with unwashed hands, you're introducing bacteria to both your contact lens and your eye." So make sure you wash your hands with soap and water before handling your contacts.

4. Wear contacts for too many hours on a given day 

While there isn't a prescribed amount of time that you should wear daily contact lenses, Dr. Richardson cautions against wearing them past the point of discomfort. "Length of contact lens wear is determined by a patient's comfort level, dryness level, and visual demands, so it will be different for each patient," she says. "When you have awareness of the contact lenses, feel discomfort, or begin to rub the eyes—these are all signs your body is giving you to remove the contact lenses."

5. Wear contacts for days or weeks (or even months!) longer than prescribed 

Contact lenses are divided up based on replacement schedule, with the most common lenses being replaced either monthly, every 2-weeks, or daily, says Dr. Richardson. And when you wear contact lenses beyond their FDA-approved replacement time, you put yourself at risk for an infection. "Old contact lenses can become safe havens for bacteria, which increases your risk of infection," she says. "Think of old contact lenses like dirty underwear or dirty socks—would you keep wearing the same underwear or socks for months at a time? Treat your contact lenses the same way!"

6. Wear contacts in the shower, pools, and other bodies of water 

You might know to avoid exposing your contact lenses to chlorinated pool water, but actually, you should refrain from exposing them to all water (including shower H20), period? "There can be microorganisms, bacteria, and chemicals in water that cause complications and infections," says Dr. Richardson.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says a dangerous germ called Acanthamoeba is commonly found in tap water, lake water, well water, and other water sources. It causes a severe and painful infection called Acanthamoeba keratitis. So, not only should you not swim or shower in your contacts, you should dispose of your contacts if they touch water, the CDC says.

7. Ignoring the signs of a contact solution allergy  

Many contact lens wearers don't know you can be sensitive or allergic to contact lens solution, says Dr. Richardson. "If your eyes feel dry, red, or irritated when you buy a new bottle of contact lens solution, these could be signs that you're having an adverse reaction," she says. "The best thing to do would be to see your optometrist who can assess your eyes and recommend the best solution for you."

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