Contacts are a popular choice for vision correction and for costumes, but stay aware of the risks.
As Halloween approaches, many people who don’t normally wear contact lenses choose to enhance their costumes with “decorative” or “fashion” contacts. Consider them alongside the estimated 45 million Americans who wear contacts on a regular basis, and it makes sense to take a moment in October to talk about healthy and safe contact lens use.
In the US, contact lenses are medical-grade devices that require a prescription, even for decorative purposes. When they are worn and cared for properly, contacts can be a safe and effective option for everyday vision correction, or to put the finishing touch on a perfect Halloween costume.
But wearing contact lenses is also associated with an increased risk of certain eye injuries and infections. These conditions, when identified early, can often be resolved quickly with your health care provider. Without intervention, though, some contact lens-related conditions can result in scarring, reduced vision, or blindness.
If you’re considering contact lenses, whether for a single occasion or for everyday wear, here’s what to know to keep your eyes healthy.
Contact lenses are associated with higher risks of eye infection and injury.
Because contact lenses actually sit on the surface of your eye, they are an easy vector for introducing microbes and debris to your eye. In addition, putting contacts in and removing them requires you to touch your eyes—or the skin around your eyes—with your hands on a regular basis, creating even more opportunities for injury or infection.
The result is that contacts are associated with an increased risk of common eye infections like conjunctivitis (pinkeye), as well as with physical injuries like corneal abrasions or scratches. But these infections and injuries can also lead to a more serious condition called keratitis, or corneal ulcers.
A corneal ulcer can be superficial or deep, but in either case, requires professional medical attention. A superficial, or surface-level, corneal ulcer involves a localized loss of your eye’s outermost layer, the epithelium. A deep corneal ulcer can extend through more layers into the stroma, and could result in serious scarring or might even break through the cornea.
An infective corneal ulcer can result from a wide variety of microbes: bacteria, viruses, fungus, or in the case of Acanthamoeba keratitis, protozoa. Once your care provider determines the cause, they can treat the infection with the appropriate medication. That’s why, if you experience any eye symptoms, it’s important to keep your contact lenses after taking them out. They may help your care provider diagnose the condition and get you the correct treatment quickly.
Contact lens discomfort is an important sign.
A variety of individual symptoms exist for the conditions associated with contact lenses, but for the most part, they boil down to one crucial guideline: don’t ignore discomfort. If something feels painful, irritating, or otherwise not-right in your eye, don’t hesitate to visit your care provider and get it checked out.
According to the FDA, there’s no way to determine at home how severe a contact lens-related eye condition might be. It’s essential that you visit a professional for a checkup. With that in mind, some of the symptoms you might experience in cases of corneal abrasion, pinkeye, or keratitis are:
- Eye redness
- A feeling of itching, burning, or grittiness in your eye
- Discomfort or pain
- Light sensitivity
- Sudden blurry vision
- Unusually watery eyes, or other discharge
- Worsening pain, even after removing your contact lenses
If you experience any of these symptoms while wearing your contacts or after removing them, be sure to make an appointment with your eye care provider, as they could indicate a serious health issue.
Protect your eyes by taking good care of your contacts.
At this point, the risks of contacts might sound extreme. But good contact lens care and healthy habits can mitigate much of the danger. Here are a few guidelines to follow to keep your eyes safe when wearing contacts:
Avoid contact with water. Contacts and water don’t mix! Always use contact solution to clean your contacts, and never use plain water or nonsterile saline. Also, always be sure to remove your contacts before swimming (or in any situations where water might get in your eyes). This helps you avoid introducing debris or microbes between the lens and your eye.
Make sure your contacts and case are in good condition. Don’t continue using contacts that are torn, folded, or otherwise damaged. The same is true for your contact lens case: if the case is cracked or damaged, don’t use the contacts inside, and get a new case.
Use clean hands. Always wash your hands well before touching your contacts, putting them in, or removing them. This is good practice any time you need to put your hands near your eyes, with or without contact lenses.
Always use fresh solution. It may seem like an easy and cost-effective option to simply top off the contact solution in your case, but don’t give in to the temptation! Use fresh solution every time. That way, any microbes or debris are at less risk of carrying over between uses.
Don’t sleep in your lenses if you can help it. Even with extended-wear lenses that are labeled for overnight use, it’s not a good idea to sleep with your contacts in if you can avoid it at all. Sleep reduces the amount of oxygen and moisture that come into contact with your eye and the lens, and create a prime environment for microbial infection.
Don’t share lenses. A set of contacts should only ever be worn by one person, to protect yourself and others from the spread of any potential infection.
Know what to watch out for when wearing contact lenses.
Whether you wear contacts for special occasions or year-round, remember that contact lenses are a medical device—and one that spends a lot of time next to the delicate surface of your eye. Keep your vision healthy and avoid the risks of injury or infection by handling your contacts properly and addressing any symptoms you experience. And, as always, keep up with your regular eye exams to catch any issues early.