Contact Lens Care and Storage
While contact lenses are safely used by millions of people every day, they do carry a risk of eye infection. Factors contributing to infection can include:
- Use of extended-wear lenses;
- Reduced tear exchange under the lens;
- Environmental factors;
- Poor hygiene.
The single best way to avoid eye infections is to follow proper lens care guidelines as prescribed by your eye care professional. In particular, including a “rub and rinse” step in the lens cleaning process, minimizing contact with water while wearing contact lenses and replacing the lens case frequently can help reduce the risk of infection.
Taking Care of Your Lenses
The following guidelines for care of contact lenses have been developed in partnership by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the Contact Lens Association for Ophthalmologists, the Cornea Society and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery.
Risk of infection varies somewhat depending on the type of contact lens. Single-use daily disposable lenses are the safest type of soft contact lens, in terms of reducing the risk of infection. Rigid gas permeable lenses are a safer alternative than any type of soft contact lens. Your ophthalmologist can help you decide which type of lens is right for you.
Regardless of the type you decide on, proper care of the lenses is essential to eye health.
- Before handling contact lenses, wash your hands with soap and water, then rinse and dry them with a lint-free towel.
- Minimize contact with water, including removing lenses before going swimming or in a hot tub.
- Contact lenses should not be rinsed with or stored in water (tap or sterile water).
- Do not put your lenses in your mouth to wet them. Saliva is not a sterile solution.
- Do not use saline solution and rewetting drops to disinfect lenses. Neither is an effective or approved disinfectant.
- Wear and replace contact lenses according to the schedule prescribed by your eye care professional.
- Follow the specific contact lens cleaning and storage guidelines from your eye care professional and the solution manufacturer.
- During cleaning, rub your contact lenses with your fingers, then rinse the lenses with solution before soaking them. This “rub and rinse” method is considered by some experts to be a superior method of cleaning, even if the solution you are using is a “no-rub” variety.
- Rinse the contact lens case with fresh solution — not water. Then leave the empty case open to air dry.
- Keep the contact lens case clean and replace it regularly, at least every three months. Lens cases can be a source of contamination and infection. Do not use cracked or damaged lens cases.
Handle your contact lens solution with care:
- Do not re-use old solution or “top off” the solution in your lens case.
- Do not transfer contact lens solution into smaller travel-size containers. This can affect the sterility of the solution, which can lead to an eye infection.
- Do not allow the tip of the solution bottle to come in contact with any surface, and keep the bottle tightly closed when not in use.
- If you store your lenses in the case for an extended period of time, consult the instructions for the lenses or the contact lens solution to determine if re-disinfecting the lenses is appropriate before you wear them. In no case should you wear your lenses after storage for 30 or more days without re-disinfecting.
Some experts recommend that if you use contact lenses sporadically you consider using single-use daily disposable lenses.
Taking Care of Your Eyes
Eye infections can lead to serious vision loss in some cases. Proper care of your eyes is just as important as proper lens care.
- Remove the contact lenses and consult an ophthalmologist immediately if you experience symptoms such as redness, pain, tearing, increased light sensitivity, blurry vision, discharge or swelling.
- If you smoke, stop. Studies show that contact lens wearers who smoke have a higher rate of problems than nonsmokers.
- Beware of using decorative lenses, such as those often sold at costume shops. These lenses have the potential to damage eyes permanently.
- Get regular eye exams. If you wear contact lenses, you should be examined by an eye care provider annually, and more often as needed.
As with any prescription, contact lens prescriptions do expire — typically within one year. You should see your eye care professional yearly to ensure they continue to have an accurate and appropriate prescription. These regular exams are also important opportunities for reinforcing proper lens care.
Common Types of Contact Lenses
There are two general types of contact lenses: hard and soft. The hard lenses most commonly used today are rigid, gas-permeable lenses (RGP for short). They are made of plastics and other materials such as silicone or fluoropolymers. Hard lenses hold their shape, yet allow the free flow of oxygen through the lenses to the cornea. RGP lenses may be the best choice when the cornea has enough astigmatism (is shaped like an egg instead of an orange) that a soft lens will not provide sharp vision. They may also be preferable when a person has allergies or tends to form protein deposits on his or her contacts.
Soft lenses are the choice of most contact lens wearers. These lenses are comfortable and come in many versions, depending on how you want to wear them.
Daily-wear lenses are the least expensive, are removed nightly and are replaced on an individualized schedule. They should not be used as an extended-wear lens.
Extended-wear lenses are worn overnight but are removed at least weekly for thorough cleaning and disinfection. They are being recommended less frequently, since there is a greater risk of corneal infection with any overnight wear of contact lenses.
Disposable-wear lenses are more expensive, but convenient. They are removed nightly and replaced on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Disposable lenses are sometimes recommended for people with allergies and for those who tend to form deposits on their lenses.
Cosmetic or decorative contact lenses are colored contacts that change the appearance of your eye color, and in the case of circle lenses also make your iris appear bigger. Decorative lenses are available by prescription and should only be worn after an eye exam and fitting by qualified eye care professional. Over-the-counter decorative contacts, including circle lenses, are illegal and pose a serious danger to your eye heath. They can cause eye injury, eye infection, and vision loss.
Toric soft contact lenses can correct astigmatism, but sometimes not as well as RGP lenses do. They usually cost more than other contact lenses.
Bifocal or multifocal contact lenses are available in both soft and RPG varieties. They can correct nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism in combination with presbyopia. Cleaning and disinfection are specific to the lens material. Visual quality is often not as good as with single vision lenses; however, for some people the ability to correct presbyopia is worth it.
Important Things to Know About Contact Lenses
Lenses that are not properly cleaned and disinfected increase the risk of eye infection. Any lens that is removed from the eye needs to be cleaned and disinfected before it is reinserted. Your eye care professional will discuss the best type of cleansing system for you, depending on the type of lens you use, any allergies you might have and whether your eye tends to form protein deposits.
Care of contact lenses includes cleaning their case, since it is a potential source of infection. The case should be rinsed with contact lens solution and allowed to dry.
Lenses that are old or not properly fitted may scratch the eye or cause blood vessels to grow into the cornea. Because a lens can warp over time, and the cornea can change shape, the fit of the contact lens and the power should be re-evaluated on a regular basis. Your return visits will be scheduled depending on the condition of your eyes and visual needs.
- Cornea Conditions
- LASIK Surgery
- General Eye Care
- Glasses & Contacts