How to Practice Good Contact Lens Hygiene

Believe it or not, 35% of people rinse their lenses with water

Cleaning contact lenses with solution
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It sounds like a broken record: contact lens hygiene. While it's not the most exciting topic to discuss, eye doctors see plenty of patients with significant contact lens complications, mostly related to bad contact lens hygiene. Though less common today due to better contact lens materials, 41 million Americans wear contact lenses and many are at risk of contact lens related eye injury from lack of good contact lens practices.

Contact Lens Risk Survey

The CDC completed a study, the Contact Lens Risk Survey, that revealed that 99% of us are not doing that great at following the rules of wearing contact lenses. The study questioned 1000 individuals older than 18 years. 83% of the respondents were female and 62% were over 40 years of age.

Ninety-nine percent reported at least one contact lens hygiene risk behavior. Nearly 1/3 of the contact lens wearers reported a previous contact lens related red eye or painful eye that required a visit to the doctor. Following are some more startling facts:

  • 50% slept overnight in contact lenses
  • 87% napped in contact lenses
  • 55% topped off disinfecting solution (instead of changing it)
  • 50% extended the recommended replacement frequency
  • 82% did not changing their contact lens case often enough
  • 85% showered while wearing their contact lenses
  • 61% swam in their contact lenses
  • 35% rinsed their lenses using plain tap water

    Dangerous Behaviors

    Sleeping: Sleeping in contact lenses carries around a 15% increased risk for getting an eye infection. Once thought to be due to a lack of oxygen to the cornea, researchers think there are many more factors that contribute to the increased risk. Napping carries the same type of risk, albeit lower because the time asleep is usually shorter.

    Topping off: Topping off disinfecting solution does not disinfect the lenses properly. After a multipurpose contact lens solution sits for more than few hours, the disinfectant dissipates. Topping it off does not increase the concentration of the disinfecting agent enough to reduce the growth of bacteria and viruses. Failing to toss out the old solution further increases the risk by potentially introducing new pathogens to the solution.

    Replacement: Surprisingly, only 50% of the respondents reported extending their recommended replacement frequency of their contact lenses. Disposable lenses were created for a reason. Replacing your lenses on the recommended schedule is the single biggest recommendation you should follow. Changing your lens case is another important contact lens rule. Although you can’t see it, bacteria will grow over time. Replace contact lens cases every three months. 

    Water sources: Swimming, showering and rinsing contact lenses in tap water all carry the same risk factor: Acanthamoeba.

     Acanthamoeba is an amoeba that is found in water and for the most part, does not carry a big threat to most of us. However, an acanthamoeba infection can result in a very red, painful and light sensitive eye. Acanthamoeba infection usually results in a large scar on the cornea, the clear dome-like structure on the front part of the eye, and can cause blindness. Treatment usually lasts 6-12 months, and often times, the outcome is not favorable. Although you can acquire an acanthamoeba infection without contact lenses, most people have a history of wearing contact lenses and some type of contamination with tap water, hot tubs or stagnant river or lake water.

    Be Safe

    Now, do the right thing! Follow your doctor’s recommendations and take them seriously. Remember, a contact lens is not something to play around with. A contact lens is an FDA approved medical device. It is considered a foreign body in your eye. Although contact lenses are a miracle device, they are not normally supposed to be there. See your eye doctor at least once a year for a comprehensive eye exam and contact lens evaluation.


    CDC. Contact Lens Wearer Demographics and Risk Behaviors for Contact Lens-Related Eye Infections — United States, 2014  Published in CDCWeekly August 21, 2015.

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