When was the last time you cleaned your lenses case?
No matter how careful you are, germs are everywhere, guys. Think about it: on your hands, eyelids, face, everywhere. But when these germs get on contact lenses, they can invade the eye. And when “the many different types of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes get on contact lenses, they can cause infection,” Mirwat Sami, M.D., a board-certified ophthalmologist in Houston, tells SELF. The thing is, this type of stuff is everywhere: Bacteria can be found in water, while viruses can be transmitted from an infected person or blister, for example. “Contact lenses can create an environment of dryness and decreased oxygenation, making contact lens wearers more susceptible to infections,” Sami says.
Here’s how to know what’s going on with your contacts, plus how to keep them fresh and clean—and save those eyes of yours, too.
When contacts are exposed to water, they can be exposed to microorganisms that can be very harmful, including acanthamoeba, according to Howard Purcell, O.D., and a senior VP at lens-maker Essilor of America. “If you choose to swim in contacts, talk to your doctor about using your contacts with goggles and potentially changing to a daily disposable lens that’s discarded daily to minimize your risk of infection,” Purcell tells SELF.
The main eye infection contact lens wearers can get—keratitis—can actually be caused by excessive UV exposure, Purcell says. Many contact lens brands now claim to have UVA/UVB protection, but this is never an acceptable replacement for a pair of light-blocking sunnies. “Since spring is here and summer is approaching, it’s critical to protect your eyes from ultraviolet rays just as you would protect your skin,” he tells SELF. “Make sure your sunglasses block 100 percent of UV rays, or ask your eye care professional about the best sunglasses to fully protect your eyes from the sun.”
“The care and maintenance of your contact lens case is very important first step for reducing your risk of infection,” Purcell tells SELF. “When it comes to storing your contacts, keep in mind that a fluid-filled dark environment is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria.” And when you put your contacts away, make sure you don’t use saline solution—it won’t cut it, Sami tells SELF, as it’s just sterile salt water; it doesn’t have any any cleansing agents. Proper solution, alternatively, usually contain some kind of preservative, a binding agent, a buffer, and a surfactant or wetting agent. Sami also recommends replacing your lens case every two to three months. I mean, wouldn’t you do the same with your toothbrush? (No? Erm, then you should probably read this.)
It’s not just as matter of being gross, it’s about being safe. After all, on each square inch of skin, there are approximately 1,500 bacteria—which means a disturbing number of germs on your hands. And it’s not like your eyes are germ-free at the end of the day, either: A small study from researchers at the New York University School of Medicine found that different types of bacteria reside on the eyeballs of contact lens wearers than non-lens wearers—and the bacterial populations were more similar those found on skin than typically found on the eyes. The solution (pun intended), lies in a proper lens care routine. Sami says this can “help prevent keratitis and improve overall hygiene.”
Here's how to take care of your contacts like a champ:
When you close your eyes with your lenses in place, you’re reducing oxygen, so the surface becomes more vulnerable to infection. Meanwhile, any germs on lens are being slammed against cornea by the insides of your eyelids.
“Ultimately, contact lenses are safe and the risk of serious complications is low,” Purcell tells SELF. “Nevertheless, it is still critical that all wearers have regular evaluation to determine the health of the cornea, best lens fit, best lens material and the appropriate wearing and replacing schedule to meet your needs. Remember, contact lenses are medical devices and should only be purchased from reputable sellers.”
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