More than 45 million people in the United States wear contact lenses either daily or as part of a regular routine, so it makes sense that there are a lot of options when it comes to the types and brands of lenses people wear. There are also many different solutions and containers for the cleaning and storage of contact lenses, with new products coming on the market every year. A trip to the eye care section of your local pharmacy or grocery store likely features a surprising array of products. How many of these do you really need? Let’s take a look at how best to care for contact lenses.
Contact lenses have actually been available since the 1940s. Just like eyeglasses, they are considered a medical device and they are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Initially, the only type of contact lenses available were made from a rigid material that fit over the eyeball. These are called hard contact lenses. It wasn’t until the 1970s that soft contact lenses became an option. Now, soft, bendable contact lenses that fit snugly on the eyes are worn by more than 90% of contact lens users.
Lens options. Contact lens technology has advanced to the point where several different kinds are available. The most common:
- Daily wear: These lenses are worn during the day, then taken out and cleaned and stored at night. They are not worn overnight.
- Extended wear: These lenses can be worn day and night, with different brands designed for different lengths of overnight wear.
- Daily disposable: These lenses are worn for one day only, then taken out and thrown away each night.
- Planned replacement: These disposable lenses are worn during the day, taken out and cleaned and stored at night, then can be re-worn. They can be used for a week or up to a month, depending on the design.
Risk for infections. Contact lenses are a convenient way to improve your vision, but come with risks that can lead to health issues. These risks are a widespread problem. Surveys have shown that the majority of people who regularly wear contact lenses do not care for them properly. Some of the risks include:
- Small rips or tears at the edges of a lens can irritate the eye.
- Dirt, makeup, eyelashes or small pieces of debris that get trapped inside a contact lens and rub against the eye can also cause eyes to become red and irritated.
- Wearing lenses too long or wearing dirty lenses can cause eye infections.
- More than 1 million doctor and hospital visits each year are linked to keratitis, an eye infection that can be caused by improper contact use.
Contact lens care. Cleaning and disinfecting are the two hallmarks of contact lens care, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cleaning is using saline or a multi-purpose solution to rinse debris from the lenses. Disinfection is using a special solution to kill germs that are on the surface of the lenses. Daily wear disposable lenses typically don’t need to be disinfected because these lenses are thrown away at the end of each day. Contact lenses that are worn overnight, worn more than once or for multiple days will need to be properly disinfected according to your eye doctor’s instructions to prevent infections from happening. There are two common methods for this.
Multipurpose solution: This all-in-one liquid typically comes in a squirt bottle. It can be used to rinse, clean, disinfect and store lenses overnight. Some tips:
- Always use fresh solution to rinse and store contact lenses.
- Don’t mix fresh and old solutions.
- Empty out old solution from the contact cases and dry the cases each day.
Hydrogen peroxide-based system: This system has a special storage case that reacts with the hydrogen peroxide-based solution, which can be used to clean, disinfect and store contact lenses. The chemical reaction between the special case and the solution causes it to fizz. Some tips:
- Remove contact lenses from your eyes each night. Put them in the special storage case. Add fresh solution each time.
- Don’t mix old and new solutions.
- Don’t rinse contact lenses with hydrogen peroxide solution and then put lenses into your eyes. Use saline instead to rinse them.