Introduction and Overview
Section one of this series introduced you to contact lenses (CLs); they are a great way to correct your vision, for optical reasons as well as cosmetic ones.
In this section, you will be given some general instructions on how to care for your contact lenses, how to wear them, and some good ideas for keeping your eyes healthy and beautiful.
Most of these things might be considered to be the product of common sense, although a lot of it may be new to you. Sometimes, lack of attention to the details or just a lack of knowledge can cause very serious problems, and it is important to us to be sure you know what to do, what not to do, and how to get help if you need it. At times, you may consider the advice in this section to be harsh and unnecessary, but we assure you it is neither. It is our ultimate goal to give you not only the best type of contact lenses, but all the knowledge you need to care for them properly. Your vision is our biggest concern.
Together, the eyecare practitioner and the CL patient form a partnership that works to keep the lenses trouble-free and safe. It is the obligation of the eyecare practitioner to provide quality products, the proper fit and give the patient the information and resources to properly care for the lenses. It is the obligation of the contact lens patient to use the lenses according to instructions and care for them properly, using the correct solutions, follow all instructions and ask questions if needed for clarification.
It should be noted that contact lenses are made available only by prescription. The prescription should specify the brand name, the correct lens measurements and power, and the expiration date. This includes all contact lenses, of any kind, including color-enhancing or color-changing lenses, “decorative” lenses and lenses used in costumes or for the theatre.
Another useful tip to keep in mind is that about 90% of contact lens-related complications are the result of incorrect lens care. Simply keeping your lenses clean and sanitary will eliminate the source of most problems associated with contact lenses.
The Basics of Contact Lens Care: Know Your Products
Contact lenses solutions do several different things: (1) clean the lens surface, (2) disinfect the lenses (3) rinse the lenses to remove other solutions, (4) keep the lenses wet while soaking and prepare them for wear, (5) remove protein that builds up on the lens and (6) re-wet and lubricate the lenses while they are being worn.
Cleaning solutions remove dirt, protein, oils, mucous and debris that gets on the lens surfaces while they are being worn.
Disinfecting solutions kill bacteria and other germs on the lenses to prevent infection.
Rinsing solutions remove other solutions from the lenses and prepare them for wear.
Storage or Soaking solutions keep the lenses wet and conditioned while in their case and make them more comfortable when inserted.
Protein removal from the lens surface is the function of enzyme cleaners. Protein from the tears builds up on the lenses and unless it is removed, it can shorten lens life.
Re-wetting solutions lubricate the lenses while they are being worn, which makes them more comfortable and helps reduce deposits.
Some of these functions can be combined into multipurpose solutions for convenience. As an example, there are many products available that clean, disinfect and soak the lenses, and that can also can be used for rinsing them. Convenience and ease of use is a good thing, because it simplifies care and reduces the cost of lens maintenance. However, some people are sensitive to disinfectants or preservatives, but even patients with allergic reactions to preservatives can usually use alternative methods for disinfecting and lens cleaning, such as a hydrogen peroxide system or a device that uses ultrasound for lens cleaning and ultraviolet light for disinfection.
When you go into a store to buy your CL solutions, you will see rows and rows of products; don’t worry or let yourself be confused. Simply buy the type and brand of solutions that were given to you when you picked up your lenses. The person who dispenses your lenses will give you a starter kit, containing sample bottles of the right solutions for your lenses, and a specially designed lens case for storing them.
The solutions used with today’s contact lenses are carefully balanced with the proper salinity to closely match your tears, and usually contain preservatives to keep the bottles from harboring bacteria or funguses that can cause infections.
Always and Never
This seems like a long list, but don’t worry; most of it is just common sense. If you remember that all types of CL materials available today are porous to some degree, and will therefore absorb whatever they come into contact with, bring it into the eye and keep it there for several hours, it’s pretty easy to understand what to avoid. If you wouldn’t purposely put it in your eye, don’t let it touch your lenses.
It is a good idea to avoid absolutes like “always” or “never,” but that does not hold true in the case of contact lens care. There are good reasons for these absolute rules to always follow.
Always wash your hands thoroughly before handling your lenses, using soap without moisturizers or skin softeners.
Always use the same brand and style of CL solutions to care for your lenses that was given to you at your dispensing appointment. Never change brands or styles of CL care solutions without first checking with your eyecare practitioner. Some contact lens solutions are not compatible with all contact lens materials and may damage them, from causing a mild discoloration to complete lens failure.
Always use the proper CL solutions with your lenses. Never use non-sterile, home-prepared saline solutions because they are the source of serious eye infections. If you must use unpreserved saline because of allergies, never use it out of a large bottle; once the container is opened, the solution inside is subject to contamination. Single-dose unpreserved saline is fine, as is saline from a spray can.
Always use solutions made for CL care, and never use tap water or saliva for lubricating or wetting your lenses. Never put your lenses in your mouth, because the mouth harbors many unpleasant things you don’t want to transfer into your eyes.
Always store solution containers tightly closed, upright in a clean, dry, cool place. Never use expired solutions, as the preservatives in them lose effectiveness over time. Always avoid touching the tip of the bottle to anything, including your hands or the eye itself.
Always familiarize yourself with your contact lens solutions, as this will help prevent mix-ups such as using a cleaning solution in the eye. Always establish a routine of contact lens care, using the same solutions for the same purposes all the time.
Always use fresh solutions every day, without re-using any of them even once. Always clean and allow the lens case to air dry while it is not in use. Always keep a spare CL case on hand and replace the lens case often, as they are another major source of lens contamination and serious infections. Never just “top off” the disinfecting solution, but always use fresh solution every day. It may be tempting to try to keep costs down by re-using solutions day-to-day, but this is false economy and very dangerous.
Always keep your lenses wet, either on your eye or in their case. If they dry out, soft lenses can become dry and brittle, much like a clear corn flake. If they dry out accidentally, don’t touch them, but rewet them until they are soft again before you try to pick them up. If the lenses seem OK after a careful inspection, disinfect them again before you wear them. Never wear a contact lens that has been dried out if it feels in any way uncomfortable or irritating; it may have a crack in the edge.
Always follow the prescribed wearing schedule and don’t over-wear your lenses. Never sleep in lenses prescribed for daytime use, and don’t leave extended-wear lenses in the eye longer than your eyecare practitioner recommends.
Always remove your lenses while swimming or using a spa. (If you want to use your lenses for water sports, like water skiing, your practitioner may prescribe a specialty lens like a one-day disposable lens for this purpose. If so, never re-use the lens.)
Good quality makeup can enhance beautiful eyes, but always insert your lenses before applying it. Never use eyeliner inside the lash line of the eye, as this can plug the ducts that provide much of the tears. Hair spray, moisturizers and sun block products can irritate the eyes, so always use them with caution; water-based cosmetics are less likely to damage lenses than oil-based, so always use them whenever possible. Always replace makeup with new, fresh products often, as old makeup containers have been shown to harbour bacteria, funguses and other micro-organisms which can then be transferred into the eyes.
Never allow anyone else to use your contact lenses or your makeup products.
Always use an enzyme cleaner to remove protein deposits on the lenses on a regular basis. Daily wear lenses, in particular are susceptible to damage from protein, because it gets into the lens matrix itself and once it does, it cannot be removed. Never wear old lenses with this type of depositing, because it can cause an eyelid problem called giant papillary conjunctivitis, which is difficult to manage and can cause even new contact lenses to be intolerable.
Never keep or use old contacts for use as spare lenses. If you must have a spare pair of lenses, always ask your eyecare practitioner to provide them. Never try to extend the normal life span of contact lenses, because it is seldom successful and causes complications.
Unfortunately, contact lenses cannot complete replace your eyeglasses. Always have a pair of current eyeglasses to use at the end of the day, or to use in the case of an eye health problem that prevents you from wearing your contact lenses. Never wear your contact lenses while you are sick, or if you are travelling under conditions where sanitary lens care is impossible.
Always schedule and come in for contact lens progress exams when your eyecare practitioners recommend that you do so. Always ask the practitioner any and all questions about contact lenses that you may have, or if you don’t understand what you are supposed to do.
Never buy your contact lenses from any source not certified by Health Canada or the FDA. Novelty lenses that change your eye color or provide special effects for Halloween can be fun, but always get them from your eyecare practitioner, not from the internet or a flea market.
Always see your eyecare practitioner immediately if you notice any unusual signs or symptoms, such as redness, irritation, pain, increased light sensitivity, discharge or if your vision worsens. Always remove the lenses immediately (even if it means you must later throw the lens away) and see your practitioner right away. If possible, bring the irritating lens to the practitioner’s office for inspection. Never try to wear a lens that is irritating or that feels wrong. (Always check to make sure the lens is not inside out.)
No contact lens on earth is more precious than your eyes or your vision. This common-sense rule is not difficult to remember. The majority of contact lens patients wear some form of disposable or planned-replacement lenses, so the cost of a replacement lens is minimal. If you experience eye irritation and have no lens case, remove the lens and simply toss it in the trash. Going great lengths to save a lens that can be replaced for a brand new one for under $10 just doesn’t make sense. Yes, some lenses cost more than that, but the cost is still minimal when compared to the cost of damaging your vision.
To the new wearer, all these rules may make contact lenses appear to be too scary to contemplate, but in reality, they are a great way to correct your vision, and once you learn about them and their proper care, it’s easy to stay safe. As long as you know the rules of safe contact lens wear and care, and follow instructions, you shouldn’t experience any difficulties. Conversely, it has been estimated by the FDA that about 80% of contact lens problems arise from poor compliance by patients, a misunderstanding of the doctor’s instructions, or from misuse.
Until you are completely comfortable with the care routine, read the instructions every time you remove your lenses and follow them exactly. Form a routine and it becomes simple. Read through this list several times and think about each rule; once you are familiar with them, they really are just sensible, and a lot of them just boil down to “keep the lenses sanitary” and aren’t difficult at all.
At your eyecare practitioner’s office, you can usually try a pair of lenses for yourself at little or no extra cost; then you can decide if this type of vision correction is right for you. We encourage you to find out if contact lenses are an option for you.