Contact lens safety: What you need to know

Contact lenses create perfect vision for tens of millions of Americans, but make sure you know the rules for using them correctly

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), about 45 million Americans wear contact lenses. Like eyeglasses, contact lenses help correct refractive error sin the eye by adding or subtracting focusing power to the eye’s cornea and lens. But unlike glasses, contact lenses do so invisibly, without change to your appearance.

Contact lenses can be incredibly comfortable, allow you to wear sunglasses easily, won’t clash with what you are wearing, don’t have frames that go out of style, and more. They won’t fog, aren’t affected by weather conditions, and since they conform to the curvature of your eye, they provide a wider field of view and don’t distort vision or present obstructions the way that eyeglasses can do.

But while there are many good reasons to choose contact lenses over glasses for vision correction, contact lenses are not without their drawbacks, and care must be taken when wearing them to prevent a wide range of irritations, infections, and other problems.

8 Risks and Side Effects of Wearing Contact Lenses

If you are switching from eyeglasses to contact lenses, it can feel like your whole life just got an amazing upgrade. You can see clearly, no longer need to worry about misplacing or accidently sitting on your glasses, and can stop fretting about if your frames accentuate your face or not. That said, there some common risks and side effects that you should be aware of:

  1. Dry eyes: Contact lenses reduce the amount of tears that get on the cornea as they absorb them to keep themselves soft. This can lead to dry eyes, which can result in itchiness, burning, and redness. Eyes that get too try can be scarred and become extremely painful. If this happens to you, eye drops can help lubricate the eyes and provide relief.
  2. Blockage of oxygen to the eyes: Contact lenses directly sit on the eye, which reduces the amount of oxygen that reaches them and threatens the prospect of healthy eyes. To avoid this, choose soft or silicone hydrogel lenses, which transmit more oxygen than convention lens materials, and avoid wearing contact lenses for long stretches.
  3. Irritation when used in conjunction with some medications, including birth control pills: Simultaneous use of contraceptive pills and contact lens can result in dry eyes and irritations due to an upset in the balance of tear film. Talk to your physician if this is happening to you.
  4. Corneal ulcers: An open sore caused by a fungus, bacteria, parasite, or virus can form in the eye’s cornea. This can be exacerbated by the use of contact lenses and even lead to permanent blindness. Ensure you visit an eye doctor regularly for checkups.
  5. Ptosis: In this condition, the eyelids drool and those affected are unable to full open their eyes. The use of soft contact lenses can help prevent this.
  6. Red eye or conjunctivitis: Next to dry eyes, this is the most common negative side effect of wearing contacts. Red eye is especially common among those who wear their contacts for long periods of time, and especially overnight. Contacts can create a moist environment and become a breeding ground for viruses and bacteria. To prevent this, always remove your contact lenses before sleeping.
  7. Corneal abrasion: Contact lenses that are not fitted property or used when your eyes are too dry can scratch your corneas. Ensure that your contacts fit properly, don’t wear them at night, and take care when removing or inserting them.
  8. Diminished corneal reflex: Using contacts can diminish your corneal reflex, a protective mechanism of the eye where the brain signals the eyelids to close to protect your eyes when pressure is applied to the cornea. To prevent this, use your contacts only when you need to.

How to Avoid Eye Infections or Injuries

While eye infections and injuries can’t be ruled out, the FDA notes there are a number of simple steps contact lens users can take to reduce the risk of infections like pink eye and other eye irritations. Many of these irritations can and should become part of your daily eye care routine. Here are some proven steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of an eye infection:

  • Replace your contact lens storage case at least every 3 months or as directed by your eye care provider.
  • If you are using a solution that contains hydrogen peroxide, always use the new storage case that comes with each box – don’t reuse old neutralization cases as they lose their effectiveness.
  • Always remove contact lenses before swimming.
  • Never reuse lens solution – always discard used solution after each sue and put fresh solution in your case.
  • Don’t expose your lenses to water such as that in a pond, lake, river, or ocean, as it can introduce microorganisms that can cause a serious eye infection.
  • Always keep lens cleaning solution in its original container, which was property sterilized.
  • Don’t wear contact lenses overnight unless specifically approved by your eye care provider.
  • If symptoms of infection or irritation develop, seek attention from an eye care provider. Those symptoms include redness, itching, burning, blurred vision, pain, swelling, or sharp pains. If any of these symptoms develop, remove your contacts from your eyes but retain them for examination by an eye care professional, and make an appointment to have your eyes looked at by a care provider.

When should you replace your contact lenses?

Knowing when to replace your contact lenses may not be clear. But ignoring the replacement schedule for your contact lenses can cause serious problems, from minor irritations to even permanent damage, as described above.

Most contact lenses today are soft lenses, which range in duration for their length of wear, including:

  • Daily disposables: These thin, light lenses should be thrown away after each daily use.
  • One or two-week disposables: These contacts should be stored in fresh solution each night and replaced every one to two weeks as directed.
  • Monthly disposables: These need to be replace every 30 days.
  • Overnight lenses: These are typically replaced every week or every 30 days and are favored by those such as firefighters who may sleep yet need to be on call at night.

What happens if you encounter a more serious problem with your contacts?

Most people wear contact lenses without encountering anything more serious than the occasional dry eye or redness. Occasionally, however, more serious problems do develop.

  • Problems with your order, such as receiving the wrong lenses, should be reported directly to the company that you bought them
    from.
  • Serious eye problems associated with your lenses should be reported to the FDA’s MedWatch.
  • Suspect that you find contact lenses being sold illegally online? Report it to the FDA.
  • Have a problem with prescribing practices? That should be handed by the Federal Trade Commission.
  • Are you having trouble with decorative contacts, such as those that enhance your eye color? Direct them to the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator. Adverse reactions resulting from the use of decorative contacts should be directed to the FDA’s MedWatch.

Contact lenses can make a great alternative to eye glasses, but knowing the warning signs associated with their use, how often to replace them, and what to do if a problem develops, can ensure worry-free use and great vision for years.

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