What did the eye doctor say to the woman when he found 27 contact lenses in her eye? Sadly, this is not a joke; a lady really had 27 contacts lodged beneath her eyelid. We’re going to assume he said, “Whoa.”
“We were all shocked she had not noticed!” Rupal Morjaria, a British ophthalmologist who collaborated with two other physicians on a report on the woman’s mass of contacts, told The New York Times.
The 67-year-old woman had reportedly been wearing disposable lenses for the past 35 years. At points along the way, nearly 30 lenses became encased by a shell of mucus. Doctors discovered the distressing lump during a routine cataract surgery. They removed the contact mass without incident.
What’s the lesson for the rest of us contact-lens-wearers? Don’t make a spectacle of yourself at your next eye appointment. Proper contact lens hygiene is incredibly important to the health of your eyes. You don’t want to end up blind from catching a pesky parasite like Acanthamoeba, whose favorite food is your cornea.
Scary examples or not, proper lens care reduces your risk of infection and will keep your eyes happy and healthy. It’s incredibly important to know how to take care of your contact lenses—and to never take shortcuts.
For example, have you heard it’s okay to clean your contacts by putting them in your mouth? Or that you can rinse your lenses off with water when you run out of solution? Do you sometimes leave your contacts in overnight because you’re awfully tired and this one time can’t hurt? That’s all pretty risky behavior.
My grandmother sent me a voicemail that's 3 minutes long telling me how I need to stop wearing my contacts overnight…
— Alexander Arnold (@Alexander_YA18) August 25, 2016
This article will break down some of the most common myths and misconceptions about your contact lenses. We hope it clears things up.
1. Contacts and water just don’t see eye to eye.
Sorry to burst this bubble of convenience, but contact lenses should never come in contact with water. Contact lens solution? Sure, of course. But water? Never.
There’s just no substitute for solution. And your mouth is not a safe alternative, either. Please stop putting your contacts in your mouth.
Lots of things can go wrong when you rinse your contacts with water (or with your tongue), explains Alan Mendelsohn, MD, an ophthalmologist and fellow of the American College of Surgeons.
“Contact lenses should not be ‘cleaned’ by spitting on them, placing them in one’s mouth, or even washing with tap water, all of which can be laden with microorganisms,” Mendelsohn tells Urbo.
Here’s the thing: You don’t know what the heck is in the water. Depending on your area, your tap water might contain industrial and agricultural contaminants or just a ton of bacteria. Your mouth definitely contains bacteria.
“Unfortunately, bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites can adhere to contact lens,” says Mendelsohn. “Excellent hygiene is imperative when handling and wearing contacts.”
This also means you should never shower or swim with your contacts in. If your lenses do come in contact with water, you should take them out as soon as you can and sanitize them with contact solution (or simply throw them away and open a new pair).
2. When Contacts Attack
The American Optometric Association estimates that 45 million Americans rock contact lenses. That’s a lot of contacts out and about in the world.
With so many people using contact lenses daily, issues are bound to arise—and you’d better believe they do. To avoid serious medical problems, it’s important to know the difference between something minor—like, say, allergy irritation—and conditions that can actually harm to your eyes.
Life’s biggest struggle atm is having ITCHY eyes but having contacts on so you can’t rub them
— Frankie Colon (@FrankieColon1) May 9, 2018
“Contact lenses should provide excellent vision and also be comfortable. If that is not the case, then something is wrong and needs to be corrected,” Mendelsohn tells Urbo. “An eye that becomes red, achy, sore, blurry, or sensitive to light [while] wearing a contact lens means that an infection and/or inflammation is present, and these symptoms should prompt a contact lens wearer to be examined by an eye physician immediately.”
In short, if you feel something, say something. Wearing your contact lenses shouldn’t be an excruciating experience. If you wear your contacts longer than recommended, or if your lenses are damaged, they can scratch your cornea—and a scratched cornea is no picnic.
If it feels like you’ve got grit caught in your eye, or if you experience light sensitivity, blurry vision, headaches, or redness and tearing, get to an eye doctor ASAP.
3. Getting Just the Right Fit
“Soft contact lenses are the most frequently prescribed and worn contact lenses in the United States due to a host of advantages including maximal comfort, rapid adaptation for a patient, and flexible wearing schedules,” says Mendelsohn. But how do you know if soft lenses are right for you?
There a variety of options when it comes to contact lenses, and each one has its benefits and drawbacks. When choosing a pair, it’s all about finding the type that works best for you and your lifestyle. Certain styles of contact lenses must be cleaned more often, or might not work for a specific vision problem. It’s important to talk to your doctor about your needs and expectations when picking out your eyewear.
If you’re looking for a minimal-care situation (and who isn’t?), soft contacts might be your best option, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA). They’re relatively easy to maintain, aren’t likely to dislodge, and are safer for activities.
“Within the realm of soft contact lenses are daily disposable lenses and conventional lenses,” says Mendelsohn. “Daily disposable lenses are a little pricier, but the incidence of ocular infections is far lower when one wears a daily disposable contact lens and then throws it away before going to sleep.”
Hard lenses provide clearer vision and last longer than soft lenses, according to the AOA. They can correct/control more vision problems, too. They are more likely to slip off the center of your eye, though, so make sure that doesn’t happen 27 times.
Whether you choose hard or soft, the less time a contact spends in your eye, the lower your risk of infection. That means extended-wear contacts require a lot more attention when it comes to cleaning and care.
4. Focus on cleanliness.
To help avoid the horrors of a scratched eye or an infection, you must clean and store your contacts properly. While the different types of lenses have different cleaning requirements, the basics for care are the same.
First things first: Wash your hands before you ever handle your lenses! Dirty hands negate any sanitation practices. So don’t put your filthy fingerprints on a lens that rests directly on your eyeball.
Most eyecare experts agree that the “rub and rinse” method works best for cleaning and disinfecting your lenses. After you’ve washed your hands, use a small amount of cleaning solution and rub your lens with your fingers. Be sure to rinse the lens—with solution, not water—after cleaning and before you put them away to soak in a saline solution overnight. If stocking up on two solutions is too much for you, there are multi-purpose solutions out there.
its barely 6am and i just found out the hard way that i used the wrong contact solution that has hydrogen peroxide inside
currently feels like i just blasted a full can of Axe Phoenix body spray directly into my eye
— wonderbrad (@wonderbradyt) May 17, 2018
It’s also important to keep your contact lens case clean and free of mold or mildew. After you remove your lenses, throw out the old solution. Rinse the case with fresh solution—the same “no water rule” applies here too—once again using the “rub and rinse” method. Leave the case sitting upside down, with the caps off to air dry until you need to soak your contacts again.
5. Clearing Up the Myths
Despite what you may have heard back on the elementary school playground, contacts cannot get stuck behind your eyeball. Remember that lady with 27 contacts stuck in her eye? Well, her contacts were lodged high up under her eyelid, not behind the eye, if that’s any consolation. (It is not.)
I've just learned it is actually impossible for your contact lens to get stuck behind your eye, so this is a good day for me.
— Nicole Chung (@nicole_soojung) July 17, 2016
“The eyeball is tethered to the eye socket by muscles and tendons,” explains ophthalmologist Anne Negrin, MD. “This stops anything from being able to get behind the eyeball. Anything stuck or rolled up would be caught underneath the eyelid, and your eye doctor can easily see this.”
So at least now you know your lenses can only migrate so far around your eyeball. Cue the horror movie music.
Here’s another persistent myth: Contacts are just for adults. Not true! Doctors can prescribe contacts for kids, and they do. Of course, a few new factors come into play when you give small children stuff to put into their eyes—but it’s not impossible!
“I’ve actually fit children as young as 8 years old into contact lenses,” says Negrin. “Like adults, every child is different, and some are completely responsible and understand good hygiene. If their parent thinks they are responsible enough to be fit into contacts, we will train them.”
Next myth: Some people believe once they have contacts, they can toss out their glasses for good. While there’s no real need to switch back and forth between contacts and glasses, contact-lens-wearers should always keep an emergency pair of specs around.
“At times, eyes are simply tired or irritated from contact lenses, and a switch to eyeglasses is prudent,” says Mendelsohn. “Also, when someone has an eye infection or inflammation, it is foolish and frequently places the eye in danger wearing a contact lens over an infected eye.”
Some people think that contact lenses can help minimize the effects of cataracts. But sadly, this is not the case.
“Cataracts are cloudy lenses inside the eye that develop with age,” explains Negrin. “When your [cataracts] are cloudy enough to obscure vision, your eye surgeon will recommend surgery. No kind of contact lenses put on the eye will enable light to get past that cloudy lens in your eye.”
Whether you’re ready taking your first plunge into the world of contacts or keep 27 lenses packed into your skull at all times, we hope this article helps you make informed and safe eye-care decisions. As the ophthalmologist’s lawyer said, “Iris my case.”