In 1888, Adolph Fick designed and manufactured the first contact lens. Made of blown glass, Fick’s lens could only be worn for two hours and covered all the visible eye. A lot has changed since then, and now roughly 45 million Americans wear contact lenses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dan Twelker, OD, PhD, an optometrist at Banner – University Medicine Multispecialty Services Clinic in Tucson, offers some additional tips to make wearing contact lenses safer for you.
Don’t sleep with your lenses in
While today’s lenses are extended wear, it doesn’t mean you should wear them when you’re sleeping. Dr. Twelker noted a serious issue for contact wearers is oxygen deprivation from wearing them overnight and it increases your infection and complication rates by 17 times.
While today’s gas permeable lenses do allow some oxygen through, there is a reduced amount of oxygen reaching the cornea, the clear tissue covering your eye. When this happens for too long, you put yourself at risk for blindness.
Some serious side effects can happen if you wear your contacts for too long, including:
- Severe eye infections
- Corneal abrasions
- “Stuck on” lenses that can peel away a layer from the cornea
- Corneal ulcers from improper cleaning and continuous wear, which could lead to scarring
If you start to see bloodshot eyes, this could be a sign of your eyes’ built in defense of bad contact lens habits. Those blood vessels attempt to feed oxygen to the eye, and when this happens, it’s time to put glasses on. Give your eyes a breather a couple times a week or in the evenings when you get home from work.
The bottom line is you must take care of your contacts and follow your doctor’s orders.
“The most important piece of advice is to start off your experience with a fitting by a professional—that is a licensed optometrist, contact lens qualified optician, or ophthalmologist,” said Dr. Twelker.
During these fittings, you learn proper hygiene, cleaning, disinfection, how to put in and take out your lenses. Dr. Twelker also stressed that wearing contacts while sleeping or napping is a bad idea and increases infection and complication rates by 17 times.
After receiving proper training for contact lens care, most patients won’t have any major problems if they follow safety precautions. However, Dr. Twelker said if red eyes, irritation or pain show up, the first thing to do is take the contact lenses out and wear glasses until after a checkup from your eye doctor. Some eye infections related to contact lens wear can worsen very quickly.
Dr. Twelker believes following proper hygiene and the guidelines your eye doctor gave you can help you avoid problems that can show up for contact lens wearers. But, his final piece of advice could be the most important:
“You need to have a backup pair of glasses available,” he said.
Want more? This infographic gives some surprising figures about contact lenses and additional tips to help you have a better contact lens experience.
This post has been updated. It was originally published on August 17, 2018.