August 09, 2018
3 min read

How can optometrists do a better job encouraging contact lens safety?

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samuel pierce, od
Samuel D. Pierce

With the approach of Contact Lens Health Week, Aug. 20 to 24, the American Optometric Association offered tips for preventing major complications due to dangerous contact lens practices.

AOA President Samuel D. Pierce, OD, explored contact lens health and safety in an interview with Primary Care Optometry News.

The AOA will also be sharing patient stories about contact lens wearers who have fallen victim to common contact lens hygiene mistakes and suffered serious, even permanent, eye damage or infection.

Healio: What are some tips for preventing major complications due to dangerous contact lens practices?

Pierce: Contact lenses are one of the safest devices for vision correction. However, that doesn’t mean people can be careless with them. It is our role as doctors of optometry to educate patients about proper care. The American Optometric Association offers some guidance for patients:

No matter how tired you are, it’s important not to sleep in your contact lenses if they are approved for daily wear only. Some contacts are approved for overnight use, but sleeping in contacts that are not approved to leave in overnight can promote the growth of bacteria and damage to the corneas. Removing lenses before going to sleep ensures that the eyes can rest and get enough oxygen.

It’s important to purchase contacts from a trusted source. Contact lenses are medical devices, but many people purchase them from third-party vendors like online retailers or flea markets. Some online retailers sell contact lenses without prescriptions or ship contact lenses with the wrong prescription or the wrong brand. Purchasing your contact lenses through your doctor of optometry will ensure you’re getting the product with the right prescription and that the lenses fit properly.

Poorly fitted contact lenses can cause significant damage to the eye’s function, which could lead to irreversible loss of vision. This goes for noncorrective decorative lenses too, which some people may buy around Halloween.

Do not over-wear contact lenses. Almost 60% of people admitted to wearing disposable contact lenses longer than recommended (American Eye-Q Survey). This bad habit can cause permanent eye damage from bacterial infections and oxygen deprivation.

You should also never share your contact lenses with someone else because you can pass along germs and other bacteria that could increase the risk of infection.

Avoid wearing lenses while you swim or shower, because the moist environment and the exposure to tap water can lead to serious eye infections.

Healio: What are common contact lens hygiene mistakes that wearers make?

Pierce: Proper contact lens hygiene is essential for good eye health but is easily overlooked. Common mistakes patients make include using tap water to rinse contact lenses or topping off the contact solution from the day before. Patients should only use fresh contact lens solution to clean, rinse and store lenses.

Also, their hands should be as clean as the lenses, so they need to make sure to wash their hands with soap and water before handling contact lenses. A commonly overlooked tip is to also dry hands before handling lenses. Failure to dry hands before touching contacts could transfer harmful microorganisms from the water to the eyes.

Finally, patients should air-dry their lens cases and leave them face down, especially if cases are stored in the bathroom. This reduces the likelihood of contamination from sources like the toilet.

Believe it or not, some people also lick their contacts if contact solution isn’t available. Contact lenses should never come in contact with the mouth or saliva, which is full of bacteria and another potential source of infection.

Another common mistake is not replacing the contact lens case in a timely manner. In addition to keeping the contact lens case clean, it should be replaced every 3 months to reduce the risk of infection from germs harboring in the threads and around the seals of the contact lens case.

Healio: What else should contact lens wearers or potential wearers know about contact lens safety?

Pierce: Contact lens wearers should avoid reordering contacts with an outdated prescription, as this can cause vision damage. The AOA recommends people who wear contact lenses get annual comprehensive eye exams with a doctor of optometry to help ensure the correct prescription and contact lens fit. An in-person exam can also diagnose eye diseases like glaucoma, diabetes or even neurological issues such as strokes, brain tumors, aneurysms and multiple sclerosis.

Healio: How can practitioners do a better job in this area?

Pierce: The best thing we can do as practitioners is to teach patients how to properly care for their contact lenses and their cases. Practitioners can start by providing patients the necessary information to develop better contact lens habits and share information about the importance of proper contact lens care and best practices for contact lens safety. Practitioners can refer patients to the American Optometric Association’s contact lens information at


American Optometry Association. 2015 American Eye-Q Survey. Posted 2015. Accessed Aug. 9, 2018.

Disclosures: Pierce reported no relevant financial disclosures.