Keep An Eye On Lenses
As many as 45 million people in the U.S, wear contact lenses, and while wearing contact lenses is generally safe, complications can arise. Many of these complications stem from two factors. The first factor is that the lenses lie in direct contact with the cornea, the outermost layer of the eye. The second factor, really a corollary of the first factor, is that because the lenses have direct contact with the eye, contact lenes must be kept free of contamination as it is a frequent cause of eye problems associated with them.
Here are a few basic recommendations regarding the use and care of contact lenses. First of all, always wash your hands with soap and warm water and dry them before handling the lenses. Always rub and rinse your lenses with contact lens disinfecting solution whenever you remove them. Never use water or saliva. Rub and rinse your lens case with solution after each use, then dry the case with a clean tissue and store it upside down with the caps off. Always soak your lenses overnight in clean solution. Do not sleep with your lenses in and avoid showering, swimming, or going in a hot tub while wearing your lenses. Lastly, as it may be necessary to keep the lenses out of your eyes for a few days from time to time, make sure that you have a backup pair of glasses available for those times.
An occasional or sometimes persistent uncomfortable feeling associated with wearing contact lenses is common and tends to improve with use. Lubrication and gradually increasing wearing time can help eyes adapt to contacts. Wearing contacts may worsen symptoms of dry eyes and cause those with dry eyes to stop wearing them. Before stopping wearing contacts, a person with dry eyes should talk to the eye doctor about artificial tears, prescription eye drops, or special plugs that may help.
Contact lens wearers may develop corneal infiltrates, which are small, gray-white bumps on the eye surface. These may be asymptomatic in some people while others may notice some eye redness or irritation. If this develops, talk to your eye doctor as it may be a sign of infection. Long-term use of contacts may cause inflammation of the upper eyelid from rubbing over the contact lens. This may cause itching or the sensation of having something in the eye. Often, this will improve with taking a break from wearing contacts but if not, your eye doctor may prescribe allergy or steroid eye drops.
More serious contact complications can include corneal neovascularization where the cornea grows new blood vessels because the contact lens has blocked the cornea’s source of oxygen, causing the cornea to swell and seek a new oxygen source. Poorly fitting contacts or eye trauma from inserting or removing them can cause a painful scratch on the cornea, called a corneal abrasion. This warrants an immediate visit to the eye doctor. The most serious contact complication is an infection of the cornea which causes a corneal ulcer. This is usually painful and may lead to decreased vision, light sensitivity, discharge, redness, and white areas on the eye. If left untreated, it will often lead to blindness. Those with poorly controlled diabetes have an increased risk of this condition. Finally, an annual eye doctor visit is recommended as lens prescriptions tend to change over time.
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By Peter Galvin, MD