5 rules every contact lens wearer breaks (and why you need to stop).

Image: iStock

My optometrist once told me that contact lenses were not a right, they were a privilege. If I wanted to continue a life without my frames, I needed to look after my lenses properly. I thought he was being a bit over the top, but I nodded along. Naturally, I left the his office full of promises. But within a month I had broken every basic rule associated with contact lens wearing. Surely I couldn’t do that much damage right?

Well, I was wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

This is what happens when you leave your contacts in too long

My next appointment was more of an urgent situation. I woke up one morning with red, puffy peepers that I couldn’t see out of. I had my contact lens privileges revoked for over a month, and left his office with a nice little supply of antibiotic drops.

To save you the same talking to (and some embarrassment of weeping, red eyes) here is a list of the most common rules that every contact lens wearer breaks, and why you need to stop.

1. Keeping lenses too long

Apparently over half of all contact lens wearers admit to keeping a pair in longer than the prescribed time.

I’m definitely in that camp of naughty little sausages who let their lenses outstay their welcome. I get it, your eyes feel fine and really, those things are damn expensive. Surely a couple more days won’t hurt. Well, actually it will.

Leaving your contacts in for too long is a big No No. Image: Istock

I spoke with Dr Stephen Chan from OPSM, who told me the harsh realities of leaving your lenses in too long. He says "Contact lenses are very safe, provided you use them in the manner they were prescribed for you. Leaving them in too long can really damage your eyes. It prohibits enough oxygen reaching the eyes which can lead to long term issues for your cornea and even loss of sight"


And how's this for shock tactics. I recently read that a Taiwanese woman recently lost all vision in both of her eyes after leaving her contact lenses in longer than prescribed. Admittedly, she did wear those puppies for six months straight but still, using your lenses longer than you should is an invitation for trouble.

Mel B: “I can’t see at all out of my left eye.”

Your eyes will feel fine right up until the point where they are not. Don't wait for your eyes to tell you to change your lenses. Make sure you remember when it's time for a new pair and make sure you stick to the schedule.

2. Dirty hands

The quickest way to infections in your eyes is to not wash (and dry) your hands prior to handling your lenses.

Think about all the things your hands get up to in the space of a day. Public transport, keyboards, toilets, mbolie phones. Now think about sticking those fingers in your eyes. Not really ideal.

It is crucial to wash your hands properly before going anywhere near your eyes, but it's equally as important to dry your hands properly. Micro organisms exist in water, which are normally fine, until they enter an environment where they're not needed - just like your eyes.

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Dr Chan agrees and says "Failing to wash your hands is one of the biggest mistakes contact lens wearers make, and it can lead to serious eye infections. Always take the time to properly wash your hands to ensure they are as clean as possible before they come in contact with your lenses"

Before you change your lenses, wash your hands properly with soap and water and make sure you dry them before touching your eyes.

3. Not using the right products

Not all contact lens products are made the same and it pays to do your research on the best ones to suit your eyes. Your optometrist will prescribe the right products to use with your lenses so stick with their recommendations.

Sterilising your contact lenses before you put them in your eyes is crucial. Image: Istock

The better solutions contain anti bacterial qualities which sterilise the lenses effectively where as the cheaper solutions may just be made up of saline water, which is fine, but doesnt disinfect the lenses the way you need them to.

The advice from Cr Chan also highlighted something else that I was doing wrong. "Each night when you take your lenses out, you should be using fresh multi purpose solution to store them in. Do not simply top up the old solution that was in there from the night before"

You should also be using an eye drop specially formulated for contact lenses. This will give back much needed moisture and prevent your eyes from feeling tight and tired. Your optometrist can recommend the best drops for your eyes.

4. Old equipment

Contact lens cases are not something that you should hold on to for sentimental value. Replace them regularly to make sure that you're not cross contaminating your new lenses with bacteria that was on your old lenses.

Often, contact lens solutions will come with a free lens case so there's no excuse to hang on to the mangey one thats been rolling around the bottom of your makeup bag for six months (12 months? I don't remember).

Dr Chan recommends replacing your contact lens case at least once every three months and rinsing (and drying) it properly in between storing your lenses.

5. Sleeping in your contacts

Hands up who does it? Okay, my hand's up. I am a bandit for sleeping in my contact lenses and boy, didn't I learn the hard way that this was not on.

I'll admit that I'm guilty of wearing my contacts to bed. Image: Istock

Even if you have monthly lenses (like I do) the option to sleep in your lenses is not an every night thing. It's more of a "if you happen to forgot one time you'll be ok" situation. Contact lenses that are designed for extended wear generally allow more oxygen to get to the eye than the other daily wear lenses, but they are still blocking a considerable amount of air. Your eyes need oxygen to regenerate and refresh and sleeping with any kind of lens in is going to inhibit this. Not only that but sleeping in your contact lenses too often can result in permanent damage to the cornea.

So yeah, every now and then (extended wear) contacts are okay for night time but you really should be taking them out of an evening and putting them in some sterilising solution, ready for the next day.