If you’re one of the 45 million Americans that wear contact lenses, there’s a good chance that you’re using them in an unhygienic way. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 99% of contact-lens wearers practice at least one “contact lens hygiene risk behavior,” including not replacing cases frequently enough and wearing lenses to sleep.
In some cases, these behaviors can lead to doctor’s visits and other health issues — but fortunately, many of these problems are preventable. Here’s what you should and shouldn’t do with your contact lenses to minimize the risk of infection and discomfort.
13 things you should never do with your contact lenses
Are contacts safe? Yes — but only if used correctly. From topping up old contact solution to touching your eyes with dirty hands, here are some of the most common contact lens mistakes to avoid.
Rub your eyes
Can you rub your eyes with contact lenses in? Experts say that you shouldn’t.
There are a few reasons for this, but it’s mainly because if there’s something in between your eye and contact, then rubbing it could scratch or damage your cornea or cause your contacts to fold in your eye. If you feel the urge to rub or touch your eyes, make sure to take out your contacts beforehand.
On a similar note, you might be wondering: Can you cry with contacts in? While it’s safe to shed a few tears while you’re wearing contacts, try to avoid touching or rubbing your eyes.
Sleep with contact lenses
According to the CDC, one-third of contact-lens wearers say they sleep or nap in their lenses. However, the agency warns against this, saying that wearing contacts to bed can make you six to eight times more likely to get an eye infection.
So, are contacts bad for your eyes at night? Even though some contacts are approved for extended or overnight use, daily use contacts reduce hydration and oxygen flow to your eyes, which can leave them more vulnerable to bacteria and infections, such as bacterial keratitis and fungal keratitis.
Reuse the solution
When you disinfect your contact lenses, you should first ensure that you’ve emptied out any old contact solution that’s still in the case from the last time you cleaned your lenses. Then, you should rinse the case with a new solution and let it air dry before you wash your lenses again.
Use tap water instead of solution
Another risky behavior is using tap water, saliva or another liquid, rather than a sterile contact solution, to clean your lenses or case. The official CDC recommendation is to keep contacts away from water altogether and throw away or disinfect any lenses that touch the water.
While these guidelines may seem strict, there are science-backed reasons behind them. Specifically, water often contains germs, some of which can cause eye infections like Acanthamoeba keratitis, a painful condition that may lead to blindness or require a corneal transplant.
Shower with contacts in
You should also avoid showering with contacts in, for the same reasons we’ve just mentioned above. Even if you live in an area with clean, drinkable water, wearing contacts in the shower increases your risk of keratitis, a serious eye infection that can lead to permanent vision loss or impairment.
Another common question: Can you wash your face with contacts in? Again, no. Getting your contacts wet — whether while showering or washing your face — can cause them to bend or stick to your eye, potentially scratching your cornea and making them painful to remove.
Not replacing them frequently
There are many types of contact lenses, including daily wear and extended wear options. But regardless of which kind you have, it’s important to replace them according to your eye doctor’s recommendations. That might mean changing them daily, weekly or monthly.
If you use a pair of contact lenses for too long, the consequences can be serious, ranging from discomfort to pain to blindness. Speak with your eye doctor immediately if you’ve noticed any of these symptoms.
Touching your eyes with dirty hands
Whether inserting or removing your contact lenses, it’s imperative to do so with clean hands. If not, you could get all kinds of bacteria into your contacts or eyes, increasing the chances of developing inflammation or an infection.
There are simple ways to reduce these risks: Before handling your lenses, be sure to wash your hands with soap and water, then use a clean towel to dry them.
Leave contacts in even when eyes are itchy
Itchy eyes can be triggered by a number of things, including seasonal allergies, dryness or an allergic reaction to your contacts or contact solution. Either way, it’s best to temporarily take out your contacts until you’ve identified and resolved the issue with your doctor.
In some cases, relief from itchy, dry eyes may be as simple as changing the brand of your contacts, replacing your lenses more often or using eye drops. Your ophthalmologist can help you determine the best solution for your situation.
Keeping your case dirty
Since your case holds your contact lenses while you wash them, it should also be kept clean and tightly sealed. Otherwise, it could transfer bacteria onto your lenses and potentially lead to an eye infection.
To clean your case, simply empty any old solution, rinse it with fresh solution and let it air dry. Experts recommend replacing your contact lens case at least every three months or immediately if it gets damaged.
Like showering and cleaning your contacts with water, wearing contact lenses while swimming or using a hot tub is another major no-no.
Whether you’re in a pool or a natural body of water, your contacts can soak up the water (which may be contaminated with bacteria) and trap it against your eye. After this happens, you may be more likely to develop uncomfortable and dangerous eye problems, including inflammation, infection, irritation and corneal abrasion.
Leave makeup on your contacts
If you wear makeup, you need to be careful about not getting it on your contacts, as it could leave a film and contaminate them. To avoid this, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly before putting in your contacts and again when taking them out.
Also, the American Optometric Association suggests putting in soft lenses before you apply makeup. If you wear rigid gas-permeable lenses, these should be inserted after doing your makeup routine.
Leave sunscreen on your contacts
As you may know, getting sunscreen in your eyes can be a painful experience. However, it can be even worse if you get it on your contacts because not only will it sting your eyes, but it can also ruin your lenses. If that happens, you’ll want to be prepared with a backup pair of lenses or glasses.
To prevent leaving sunscreen on your contacts, wash and dry your hands before putting them near your eyes. Follow the same process when taking them out.
Tamper with your contact solution
If you’re heading out on a business trip or weekend away, it might be tempting to transfer your contact solution into a smaller, travel-friendly container. However, the US Food and Drug Administration advises against this, as it can compromise the solution’s sterility and put you at risk of an eye infection.
Similarly, the FDA recommends disposing of any contact solution that’s past its expiration or discard date since the formula can become less effective after these dates.