Is it safe to reuse contact lens solution — and should you wear your lenses in the shower? Here are the answers to some common questions about contacts, and a few tips to keep your eyes in good shape.
By Katherine Lee
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
Millions of people wear contact lenses as a convenient way to correct their vision. But all contact lens wearers must be vigilant about one thing — contact lens safety.
“Contact lenses are one of the safest medical devices when worn responsibly,” says Thomas L. Steinemann, MD, a professor of ophthalmology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. While contact lens use is safe, not caring for contact lenses properly or failing to follow contact lens safety rules can lead to serious problems. “Contact lenses can be a potential point for infection,” says Dr. Steinemann. “No matter how careful you are, germs are on our hands, eyelids, everywhere. When germs such as bacteria and fungi are on the contact lens, they can invade the eye.”
8 Important Precautions for all Contact Lens Wearers
If you wear contact lenses, here’s what you should know:
Choose Contacts That Are Right for You
- Get a contact lens prescription from an eye doctor. “Have your lenses fitted by a qualified eye care professional,” says Steinemann. Also be sure to get instruction on proper lens care.
- Don’t wear contact lenses overnight. “When you close your eyes with your lenses in place, you’re reducing oxygen,” says Steinemann. “The surface of the eye becomes more vulnerable to infection. Also, you have a lens being closed against the eye — any germs on the lens are being slammed against the cornea.”
- Don’t wear your contact lenses in the shower or while swimming. Lakes, rivers, sea water, swimming pools, and even tap water can all harbor an organism called acanthamoeba, which can cause eye infection. Wearing contact lenses while swimming, showering, or doing other water-related activities can lead to serious acanthamoeba infections of the eye.
- Don’t reuse contact lens solution. “You may think you’re saving money by doing so, but the disinfecting capability of the solution is gone,” says Steinemann. Use fresh solution every time you store your lenses in their case.
- Don’t use saline solution for contact lens cleaning or disinfection. Saline solution is simply sterile salt water. It will not clean or disinfect. Be sure to choose a solution that includes disinfectant.
- Replace your contact lens case every two to three months. “Lens cases get dirty, just like a toothbrush,” says Steinemann.
- Take out your contacts if they are bothering you. It seems like common sense, but it can be easy to ignore irritation when you’re busy or distracted. Never put up with irritation, as it could be sign of an infection or other problem.
- Never use saliva as a wetting agent. “Your mouth is one of the dirtiest places in your body,” says Steinemann.
3 Steps to Follow When Handling Your Contacts
- Before handling your contact lenses: wash your hands with soap and water and dry with a lint-free towel.
- To remove lenses: After you take out each contact lens from your eyes, gently rub with solution. Then rinse each lens with fresh solution before storing them for disinfection; be sure you squeeze enough solution into each case compartment to cover each lens. Even if the packaging of the solution you use reads “no rub,” you should still clean each lens to remove any germs, says Steinemann.
- To put in lenses: After disinfecting your contact lenses according to the product directions on your solution bottle and before you put them back in your eyes, rinse off each contact lens with fresh solution. Discard used solution, rinse out the lens case with fresh solution (not water), and let the case air dry.
3 Ways to Know Contact Lenses Aren’t for You
Some people should not use contact lenses for vision correction. They include:
- Anyone who is too busy to be compliant with contact lens safety measures and thorough hygiene habits
- People who work where there is a lot of debris in the air, such as sawdust
- People who have dry eye problems. “When you put a lens in the eye, it rests on tear film,” says Steinemann. “If you don’t make enough tears, you could be at increased risk for infection.”
- Contact lenses are safe to use, but only if you follow your doctor’s advice and these simple rules of care.