Can contact lenses cause eye infections?
Millions of people safely use contact lenses without any problems. But, if proper lens hygiene practices aren’t followed, contact lenses can cause eye infections.
If you believe you have an eye infection, switch to wearing glasses until you can see a doctor for diagnosis. Don’t try and self-diagnose as there are different types of eye infections that require different treatments.
To help avoid eye infections, make sure you always follow instructions from your optometrist and the manufacturer’s recommendations. For example, how long to wear lenses for, when to clean them, and how to store them, etc.
In this post we’ll explore the symptoms, causes and types of eye infections, as well as how to avoid eye infections with the proper hygiene practices.
Symptoms of eye infections
It’s not always obvious that you are getting an eye infection. But symptoms of a developing eye infection can include:
- red, sore eyes
- itchy eyes
- swollen eyes
- watery or dry eyes
- sensitivity to light
- blurred vision
- pain in your eye.
Causes of eye infections
There are many potential causes of eye infections. If you don’t wash your hands regularly, simply rubbing your eyes or touching your eyeball with your finger can be enough to start an infection. Improper use of contact lenses can also cause eye infections, particularly if you:
- wear your lenses for an extended period of time
- sleep in your contact lenses
- don’t clean and disinfect your lenses properly
- reuse or top-up contact lens solution
- don’t replace your contact lens case often enough.
Types of eye infections
Eye infections can be bacterial, fungal or viral. Below are some examples of common types of eye infections.
Keratitis is the most common eye infection related to incorrect contact lens use. It is an infection of the cornea (the clear area covering your pupil and iris).
Causes of keratitis include bacteria, herpes, fungus, and microbes. In some severe cases it can even lead to scarring on your cornea that will affect your vision. So if you suspect you have an eye infection, make sure see a doctor as soon as possible.
Conjunctivitis (sometimes called ‘pink eye’) is a very common and contagious eye infection, especially among young children who attend day care or school. But adults can also get conjunctivitis. It is caused by bacteria, a virus, or an allergy.
Eye herpes (also called ‘occular herpes’) is caused by the herpes virus. It can make your eye inflamed and may even cause scarring on your cornea.
There are several forms of eye herpes; your doctor will be able diagnose which one you have and advise how best to treat it.
Avoid eye infections with contact lens hygiene
Maintaining proper contact lens hygiene can prevent eye infections and subsequent damage to your vision. When you follow the instructions from your optometrist, contact lenses are a very safe form of sight correction; but when you deviate from this, you put yourself at risk.
Below are some contact lens hygiene tips for good eye health.
Wash your hands
- Always wash and dry your hands before handling contact lenses.
Follow instructions carefully
- Your optometrist should give you a replacement schedule for your contact lenses—make sure you follow it.
- Pay close attention to the manufacturer’s instructions on the packet to ensure you clean and store your contact lenses properly.
- Make sure you remove your contact lenses before going swimming or getting in a spa or sauna.
- Don’t store your contact lenses in water or rinse them with water.
- Never use saliva to wet your contact lenses—this can very quickly lead to an eye infection.
Clean, rinse and disinfect contact lenses
- Only clean, rinse and disinfect your contact lenses with products recommended by your optometrist.
- Use fresh solution to clean your contact lenses; never re-use old solution.
- Use the ‘rub and rinse’ cleaning method: use your fingers to rub your contact lenses and then rinse them with lens solution before you soak them.
- Rinse your case with fresh solution—don’t use water. Then leave the empty case open so it can dry.
- If your contact lenses have been stored for 30 days or more, never wear them without re-disinfecting.
Store contact lenses correctly
- Store your lenses in the proper case.
- Replace your contact lens case every 3 months or so.
- Don’t use a lens case if it is cracked or damaged.
Contact lens solution
- Don’t use old solution or top-up the solution in your lens case with new solution.
- Don’t use smaller containers for your contact lenses when travelling.
- Make sure the tip of the solution bottle doesn’t touch any surfaces.
- Keep the bottle closed when you’re not using it.
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