Are Contact Lenses Damaging Your Eyes?

Sleeping in your contacts. Swimming without removing them. Going too long between replacements. If any of these bad habits sound familiar, you can count yourself among the majority of the 45 million American adult contact wearers who don’t follow doctor’s orders when it comes to their lenses. The Centers for Disease Control reported nearly 88 percent of adults age 25 or older don’t take proper care of their contacts.

contact case


Whether we disregard good practices – or simply forget them – we’re putting our health at risk. Mishandling contact lenses may cause eye infection or inflammation. There is also the risk of developing a corneal ulcer, a corneal abrasion or neovascularization, which happens when new blood vessels grow from the whites of our eyes toward the cornea.

With Contact Lens Health Week upon us, Dr. Linda Chous, Chief Eye Care Officer at UnitedHealthcare, offers some advice to help avoid those outcomes.

Don’t ignore symptoms. “If you don’t see well through your contacts, if your eyes don’t feel good, or if they visibly don’t look good – if you have irritability, teariness, redness or swelling – remove your contacts and get in touch with your doctor,” Dr. Chous said. It may simply be allergies, but it could be more serious. Other signs of trouble include blurry vision, unusually watery eyes, discharge, worsening pain in or around the eyes or light sensitivity, according to the CDC.

So many solutions. Use only the contact solution recommended by your doctor. “There are many different solutions and they do different things, such as disinfect your lenses or provide eye comfort,” Dr. Chous said. “Similar to medications, we need to follow doctors’ orders. Just grabbing a bottle of what’s on sale may not help. Use what your doctor prescribes.” Also, do not use expired solutions, and do not use tap water, which may increase risk of infection.

Replace regularly. Nearly 45 percent of contact wearers don’t replace their lenses when they should, according to the CDC. Follow the prescribed replacement schedule: some contacts are replaced daily, others weekly or monthly. Keep track of when you’ll need a fresh pair.

Dr. Chous noted, “For me, the gold standard is the daily replacement lens. I prescribe these almost exclusively for children, considering there is a much lower risk of developing infection when you start with clean lenses every day. They’re more comfortable, too, because they’re fresh, and you can often see better out of them because they don’t have a film or residue on the lens.”

Cleanliness is key. Always wash your hands thoroughly before inserting your contacts and before removing them. Also, keep your storage case clean and replace it every three months. “When your case is not clean, you increase your risk for infection,” Dr. Chous said.

In addition to these good habits, Dr. Chous recommends working with your doctor to identify the ideal lens for you. There are hundreds of lens types suitable for a variety of lifestyles, ages and uses. If a lens isn’t working for you, let your doctor know. “Everyone is an individual when it comes to choosing the right lens, so it’s important to consult your doctor. He or she can help determine the contacts that fit you best,” Dr. Chous said.