Do You Practice Good Contact Lens Hygiene?

Posted on May 31, 2011 · Posted in Contact Lenses, Eye Health

The findings from two independent contact lens surveys were recently published in the journal Contact Lens & Anterior Eye.  The first survey asked 645 contact lens wearers questions about how often they replace their contacts. The second asked 787 wearers questions about contact lens disinfection, hygiene, and replacement of their storage case.  The results uncovered a number of places where contact lens wearers are inviting complications.

Some of the highlights (with our commentary):

  • Almost half of the people who responded admitted to not having washed their hands with soap before putting their lenses on in the morning (44%) and taking them off at night (49%)

Numerous studies have shown the effectiveness of hand-washing in preventing the spread of illness in all aspects of health care.  Contact lens care is no different.  By not washing their hands prior to touching the eye and handling a lens, contact lens wearers significantly increase the risk of lens contamination and infection.

  • Very few contact lens wearers rub their lenses with disinfecting solution (25%)

This one can be confusing because the multipurpose solution companies print “No Rub” right on the product labels.  How this designation comes about is the FDA lays out a minimum acceptable level of disinfection that a solution needs to achieve in order to be allowed to market their product as “No Rub”.  I’ll say that again: minimum acceptable level.  The majority of the cleaning and disinfection of a contact lens is achieved through the mechanical rubbing of the lenses.  It’s much more effective and safe to put some solution on the lenses and gently rub them (clean hands, of course) for a few seconds before putting them into the case overnight. 

Best real world analogy would be rinsing a plate before putting it in the dishwasher.  If you don’t rinse your plate after a meal, the first cycle or two through the dishwasher might be OK, but you will start to notice buildup and gunk pretty quickly.  Rinsing prior to putting it in the dishwasher gets many of the bigger particles off as well as loosening some of the potentially more stubborn, smaller particles.   Same idea with rubbing a contact lens before placing in the case overnight.  

  • Few followed their doctor’s recommendation for lens replacement schedule

This shouldn’t need to be said, but doctors’ recommendations are made with the patient’s best interests in mind.  If your heart doctor recommends a stress test, it’s because he/she feels that the data obtained from the test will improve the care he/she can provide for you.  If your primary care doctor recommends medication for high blood pressure, it’s because he/she feels lower blood pressure would be better for your health.  If your eye doctor recommends you discard your contact lenses each month, it’s because he/she feels, in your case, that replacing your lenses monthly gives you the best chance at maintaining healthy eyes.

  •  75% said they emptied the solution from the lens case in the morning

This number needs to be 100%.  Effective contact lens disinfection requires fresh solution.  There are some contact lens solutions that turn into saline overnight and saline has ZERO disinfecting properties.  Reusing that type of solution provides no disinfection and could actually create a harbor for bacteria.  Even the solutions that don’t get neutralized to saline lose effectiveness overnight.

  • On average, contact lens wearers clean their lens case 2-3 times per week.

How many times do you wear a shirt or pair of pants before you wash it?  Our bet would be that the answer is once.  So how can you not, on a daily basis, clean the case that holds a medical product that will be in direct contact with your eye?  Ask your eye doctor for the proper procedure for cleaning your case.

  • 48% of wearers replace the lens storage case annually or less often.

Over time, bacteria and fungi can actually attach themselves to a contact lens case and significantly increase the risk of eye infection.  Therefore, it is very important to replace your case at the interval recommended by your eye doctor.  Some solutions come with cases and make it easy to start a new one with each new bottle of solution.

We’d love to say that we are surprised by these findings, but the truth is that contact lenses are often not given the respect they deserve.  Contact lenses are medical devices placed directly onto, arguably, our most important sense organ.  Why risk a visually-devastating infection when the procedures to minimize that risk takes such little time and effort?