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How to Care for Contacts: The Complete Guide to Contact Lens Hygiene

Woman looking through contact lens held up to her eye

Contact lenses are a $324 million industry in Canada. But many people aren't taking care of them the way they should.

In fact, risky eye behaviour could be making your vision worse. Improper care can also lead to an allergic reaction, infection or swelling of your cornea.

In this article, we explain why having good eye hygiene is essential. We also show you how to care for contacts so you're not putting your eyes through unnecessary risk.

A Brief History of Contact Lenses

word history in wooden blocks

You may have read that Leonardo da Vinci invented contact lenses, which is partly correct. He came up with the idea that submerging your head in water could alter your vision and help you see better. He created an apparatus, but it wasn't comfortable or practical.

In 1636, Rene Descartes thought he could improve on Da Vinci's water theory by placing a glass tube directly on the eyes. The invention helped people see better, but they couldn't blink!

It wasn't until 1801 when someone was willing to try again. This time, British scientist Thomas Young improved on Descartes' glass tubes. However, this invention didn't work, and it wasn't safe either.

Over the next 50 years, several people tried to come up with safe and effective contact lenses. Glass lenses evolved into plastic lenses, which led to soft contacts in the 1970s. These were not only more hygienic, but also affordable and easy to use.

Contacts have come a long way. Today, we have every kind of contact lens you can think of: disposable, extended wear, self-lubricated and even custom-made. With these advancements, they have become way easier to care for.

Much better than wearing a bowl of water on your head or gluing glass to your eyes, don't you think?

Why Choose Contacts?

Fogged glasses with kitchen in background

There are many benefits to wearing contact lenses. They're great for active people who continuously need to adjust their glasses. Professional athletes wear them because they don't hinder safety equipment like helmets and face masks.

Contact lenses sit directly on the cornea and give you a wider field of vision. Because there are no frames to look through, that wider field is also unobstructed. Unlike glasses, contacts don't fog up on a rainy day, and there isn't an extra fee for scratch resistance.

You also don't usually get a reflection or glare when you wear lenses. No need to buy a pair of prescription sunglasses either. If you wear contacts, just grab your favourite pair of shades, and you're on your way.

Contact lenses are a great alternative to glasses, but there is some maintenance involved. It’s worth the care for optimal visual acuity, health and other perks.

If you don't take care of your lenses or if you have poor hygiene, serious problems can occur.

What Happens if I Don't Take Care of My Contacts?

Close up eye infection

There are positive results from wearing contacts, like great, clear vision. But there can be negative ones too when they are not taken care of as instructed. The most common issue from dirty lenses is eye infections.

While some contacts are suitable for extended (overnight) wear, clinical studies suggest this isn't a good idea. Talk to your eye doctor to find out the risks of developing a corneal ulcer from using extended-wear lenses overnight.

A corneal ulcer is a condition called ulcerative keratitis, which perforates the cornea. Permanent scarring of the cornea or blindness can result from this condition.

Another issue that could develop is Acanthamoeba keratitis. This is an infection that occurs when tiny parasites in water get into your eye. It's very difficult to treat and can warrant a corneal transplant in severe cases. Even tap water can transfer these parasites to your eyes. This is why you should only use designated solutions on your contacts.

How to Care for Contacts

How to care for contacts with solution bottle and lens case

Before we review the different types of lenses and how to care for them, we must stress cleanliness. You should always wash your hands with water and soap before you handle your contacts. Dry them with a lint-free towel if possible.

Always use contact lens solution to clean your contacts — never water.

Types of Contacts

The easiest and safest type of contacts is daily disposable lenses. Also called dailies, these contacts are one-use. You wear them once, then toss them. There's no cleaning required.

Daily wear disposable lenses are the most popular type of contacts. You can wear them for two weeks to a month, but you need to remove them at night.

Most extended-wear lenses are worn up to seven days straight, some up to 30. But after the time frame, you need to remove and dispose of them. Your eye doctor can explain how long you are able to wear the specific brand you choose.

Contact Lens Care Tips

Don't wear contacts in the pool, spa or any body of water. Even showering with contacts increases the risk of infection.

Contact Lens Cleaning Tips

Put the lens in your palm and squeeze fresh solution into your hand. Of course, it can’t be stressed enough that you should wash your hands before touching your lenses.

Make sure you keep your solution bottle closed when it's not in use to keep contaminants out.

Contact Lenses and Your Health

young woman learning how to insert contact lens

Wearing contacts comes with commitment. Knowing how to care for contacts will keep your eyes healthier and your vision clearer.

If you’re still looking for the right contact lenses, consult with your eye doctor. A brief discussion can result in some great options for you. Your optometrist can also advise you on a proper care and maintenance regimen so your eyes stay as healthy as possible!

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