A small disc of thin plastic is fitted to your eyeball and, just like that, the world's fuzzy edges sharpen into focus! Contact lenses bring normal vision to the near- and far-sighted masses. So many of us wear contacts nowadays, and they've become so supremely easy to wear that we may get a little lax about taking care of them.
When we fail to properly wear, care for, and clean our contact lenses, our eyes become more vulnerable to infection. Contact lens wearers, take note of these 10 moments when you might be putting your eyes at unnecessary risk.
When you handle your lenses: Naturally, this step invites infection and irritation - you are putting your finger in your eye, after all. Thoroughly wash your hands before touching your contact lenses or your eyes, and trim your fingernails short so you don't tear or scratch your lenses. Never use tap water or saliva to wash your lenses - stick to the contact lens solution appropriate to your lens type. Ask your eye care professional which solution is right for you.
When you wear your lenses too long: There's a good reason why many eye doctors advise against the use of extended-wear contacts. Contact lenses block oxygen to your eyes. If you wear them overnight or for longer than prescribed by your eye care professional, you boost your risk of corneal ulcers that can scar your cornea or even cause blindness.
When you take medications: You would, of course, remove your lenses before putting in any type of eye-drop medication. But did you know that certain types of medications can have an impact on your contacts? Taking the birth control pill boosts estrogen and can make a woman's eyes more sensitive to her contacts, as well as decreasing tear output and making her eyes drier. Antihistamines to ease an allergy might also dry out your eyes. Certain types of acne medication can cause an itchy sensation, and plain old acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) can irritate the eyes. Be sure to tell your eye care professional about any medications you take on a regular basis.
When your solution becomes the problem: Contact lens solutions come in many varieties: some rinse, some clean, some disinfect, some rewet the eyes or boost tear production, and some multipurpose formulas do it all. Each of these types of products contains preservatives that can expire or become irritating to the eyes. Don't use the solution if it's past its expiration date. Trouble can arise when switching brands or types of solutions. Even if you stick to the same brand, the manufacturers may alter the solution, so watch for labels that say things like "new and improved." Also, never transfer solution into a smaller container for travel or to carry in your purse - this can increase the risk for contamination.
When your eyes get too dry: Since contacts cover the surface of the eye and restrict oxygen, many wearers experience dry eyes now and then. And the dryness can become even worse in certain situations such as on an airplane, in a dry climate, while taking antihistamines, or after drinking alcohol. Carry a bottle of artificial tears or rewetting drops, and be sure to blink often to keep eyes lubricated.
When you put on makeup: Your makeup bag and vanity table is filled with possible eye irritants. Never share eye makeup or apply shadows, mascara, or eyeliner to swollen, red, or infected eyes. Choose water-resistant mascara instead of waterproof or lash-extending formulas. Opt for water-based hypoallergenic moisturizers, lotions, and foundations since creamy products can smudge and film up your lenses. And timing matters, too - if you wear soft contacts, insert your lenses before you apply makeup. Wearers of rigid gas-permeable lenses should wait until after. For both types of lenses, remove your contacts prior to removing makeup.
When you visit the hairdresser: Salons swarm with airborne chemicals from hairsprays and other products. Either don't wear your contacts to your next appointment or shield your eyes. Blink more frequently if you're stuck beneath a hair dryer.
When you go outside: Tiny airborne irritants like dust, pollen, mould, smoke, and pet dander can make their way into your eyes and stick to your contacts can irritate your eyes. Excessive tearing in reaction to allergens can make it uncomfortable to wear your contacts. Consider switching to your glasses on high pollen days or when you know you'll encounter irritants.
When you take a dip: Sure, it's no fun to dive into the pool in your glasses. But wearing your contacts into a chlorinated pool or who-knows-what-infested natural body of water puts your lenses at risk of contamination. If you can manage it, swim lens-free and wait about an hour before you put your contacts back in.
When you light up: Smokers know that they put their health at risk whenever they stoke up a cigarette. But smokers who wear contacts are at 8 times the risk of developing corneal ulcers than non-smoking lens wearers.
Consult an eye care professional if you experience symptoms such as hazy or blurred vision or eye pain, or if you detect signs of an eye infection including discharge, itching, burning, or sensitivity to light. At the first sign of infection, remove your contact lenses.