7 Contact Lens Mistakes You're Probably Making, Because The CDC Says 99 Percent Of Us Are Doing It All Wrong
The Internet likes nothing better than to tell us that we're not doing something right — but when it's the CDC telling you that you're probably taking care of your contact lenses wrong… well, let's just say that you might want to listen. According to a new report released on Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a mind-blowing 99 percent of people who wear contacts have engaged in “at least one contact lens hygiene risk behavior.” You guys? That's almost all of us (and yes, I'm included in that group). Clearly we all need to double down and re-examine our eye care routines, because otherwise we're all going to end up doing tons of harm to ourselves out of pure laziness.
Using market research, the CDC estimates that 40.9 million Americans age 18 and over use contact lenses regularly, many more of whom (93 percent) favor soft lenses over hard ones. Approximately 1,000 contact lens wearers — a small number in comparison to 40.9 million, perhaps, but still worth looking at — completed the Contact Lens Risk Survey, which found the following horrifying tidbit: Nearly one third of all wearers reported having an issue in which their eye became red or painful that was bad enough to require a doctor's visit — and which was ultimately found to have been caused by their contact lenses. Or, more accurately, their inadequate care of them.
So, what exactly were all those lens wearers doing that messed up their eyeballs? According to the data gathered by the survey, making one or more of the following boo-boos. But hey, the good news is that taking care of your contacts properly isn't actually all that hard. The CDC has some solid tips, but the short version is this: Wash your hands before putting in or taking our your lenses; use new solution every time you store them; and make sure you rub and rinse them with fresh solution before popping them in the case.
Are you making any of these contact lens mistakes?
1. You're swimming or showering with your lenses in.
The biggest no-no? Water. 84.9 percent of respondents to the Contact Lens Risk Survey reported showering with lenses in and 61 percent reported swimming in them, so odds are you're doing at least one of those things, too. Noted the CDC:
Of particular concern, contact lens wearers of all types frequently reported exposure of their contact lenses to water, including storing or rinsing their lenses in tap water and showering or swimming while wearing lenses. Exposure of lenses to water raises the risk for infection because microorganisms living in water can be transferred to the eye. Even household tap water, although treated to be safe for drinking, is not sterile and contains microorganisms that can contaminate lens cases and contact lenses and cause eye infections.
Remember that girl who almost lost her eye due to a parasite literally eating it from the inside out? That whole thing happened because a single drop of contaminated water splashed on her contacts when they were sitting in a glass of lens solution on the sink in her dorm. I'm not saying that this will definitely happen to if you let water touch your lenses… but it very well could. Better safe than sorry, no?
Speaking of water...
2. You're rinsing or storing your lenses in water instead of solution.
In spite of all the warnings we just read about, 35.5 percent of contact lens wearers reported rinsing their lenses in water, while 16.8 percent reported storing them in it. And if you narrow the field to those who wear hard lenses, as opposed to soft ones? 91.3 percent of hard contact lens wearers reported rinsing them in water. Please don't do this to yourself.
3. You're sleeping in your contacts.
50.2 percent of respondents reported sleeping overnight in contact lenses, while 87.1 percent reported napping in them. While this habit is obviously less of a problem for people who wear contacts that are designed to be slept in, it's still worth noting that, according to the CDC, “sleeping in any type of contact lens increases risk for eye infection.”
Why is sleeping in your lenses so bad? Well, first off, it deprives your corneas of oxygen. Ophthalmologist Dr. Rebecca Taylor, M.D., described the practice to the Huffington Post in 2012 as “like having a plastic bag over your head when you sleep. It's not ideal for oxygen exchange.” Since oxygen is needed to keep your corneas healthy… well, you can see how suffocating them might be a bad idea.
Second off, your risk of infection is much greater if you doze without removing your lenses first. A 2012 study found that sleeping overnight with your contacts in — even just occasionally — increased the risk for keratitis (inflammation of the cornea) 6.5 times. Just take your dang lenses out before you go to bed, OK?
4. You're not replacing your contacts on schedule.
You know how each pair of contacts are meant to be worn for only a certain amount of time? Whether you wear daily disposables or monthly ones, there's a reason for that, and it has to do with — yep — microorganisms. Repeated handling of your lenses provides many more opportunities for microorganisms to find their way onto them, and given how homey the moist surface of your lenses are to all those critters is? Bad news. Wearing a pair of lenses beyond their designated time frame boosts the possibility of infection.
Oh, and if you're the type who has two-week lenses, but only wears them a few times a week, subsequently using the same pair well past their original expiration date? Stop doing that immediately. The two-week time frame isn't for two weeks of wear; it's for 14 days, period. After those 14 days are up, the lenses themselves start to degrade, whether or not you've actually been wearing them every day.
5. You're not replacing your contact lens case on schedule.
Same deal as all the other mistakes on this list: It's a contamination issue. Generally speaking, you should throw out your old case and start using a new one every three months. Not doing so will promote the growth of microorganisms, and as we've already established, you do not want those things getting into your eyes.
6. You're not using fresh solution every time you store your lenses.
I'm starting to repeat myself a lot, but again, re-using solution in which you've already stored your lenses decreases the effectiveness of the disinfectant and increases the risk of contamination. 55.1 percent of respondents reported topping off their solution instead of replacing it; so let's try to get that down to zero percent, shall we?
7. You're not cleaning and disinfecting your case every time you use it.
Guilty as charged. I'm good about making sure I use fresh solution every time I take my lenses out, but I definitely don't actually clean the case before I use it. To clean your case, wash your hands (seriously, do it — with soap), empty the case out, fill each well with contact lens solution, and rub it around the case with your freshly-washed fingers for five seconds. Then let it air dry face down with the caps off. Every so often, be sure either to boil it or run it through your dish washer.
See more findings from the CDC's contact lens report here.