The Truth About Showering With Contact Lenses
Contact lenses and water do not mix. Taking a shower with contact lenses is convenient, but it puts you at risk of developing a serious eye infection.
You might know someone who insists that they’ve always showered with their lenses in and have never had any problems. But severe eye pain, visual impairment or even blindness are too high a price to pay for saving a few minutes on your morning routine. Here’s the truth about why you should never shower with your contact lenses in.
Why Contact Lenses and Water Don’t Mix
Optometrists highly recommend removing your contact lenses before showering. The risk of developing a serious eye infection is all too real.
Water contains all kinds of germs, both bacterial and viral, that don’t usually cause us any harm. In developed countries, tap water is disinfected of dangerous germs before it reaches your home. Providers use water treatment methods such as UV technology, ozone technology and a good dose of chlorine.
Yet tap water can still contain acanthamoeba. Acanthamoeba is a organism that lives in natural water sources, like lakes, rivers and the sea, and tap water. If acanthamoeba gets into your eye while you're wearing contact lenses you're at risk of contracting acanthamoeba keratitis.
What Is Acanthamoeba Keratitis?
You might have heard of acanthamoeba keratitis before. That’s because it’s the boogeyman of eye infections, very rare but very serious.
According to the CDC there are 1-21 acanthamoeba keratitis infections per million contact lens wearers. The number differs depending on geographical location.
Acanthamoeba keratitis is extremely painful and difficult to treat. Once in your eye, acanthamoeba releases proteins that dissolve the cornea. This allows the organism to enter the cornea and begin consuming the corneal cells. Early symptoms include redness, blurred vision, a gritty sensation in the eye, and excessive tearing. The worst acanthamoeba keratitis infections can result in blindness.
Showering in your contact lenses increases your risk of infection because the lens can trap the acanthamoeba in your eye. The FDA and the AOA recommend that you do not expose your contact lenses to any water to avoid contracting this terrible infection.
Other Problems With Showering in Contacts
- Contact lenses are like sponges. When exposed to water, contact lenses will absorb water particles and swell. Shower water can contain a variety of chemical, environmental and bacterial irritants. Any one of these irritants could cause an eye infection if they come into contact with the delicate surface of your eye.
- Hot, steamy showers can make contact lenses dry out and shrink. This sometimes causes the lens to adhere to the surface of the eye. Even though this is painful, it’s important not to remove the lens until you’ve hydrated your eye. Lubricate your eye using saline eye drops, and try to blink the lens loose. Still, a stuck lens can scratch the cornea, which makes it easier for germs to get into the eye and cause infection.
- We’ve all experienced the uncomfortable sensation of getting soap in our eye. Usually, this is no big deal as our eyes can flush out the soap without too much trouble. But, if you’re wearing contact lenses it’s a little more complicated. You can contaminate your lens if you get soap, shampoo, or any other shower product on it. To avoid further eye irritation, you must remove your lenses as soon as possible. You then need to disinfect them overnight in a clean case filled with fresh contact lens solution.
Easiest Way to Avoid Showering With Contacts
99% of contact lens wearers in the U.S. practice poor contact lens hygiene. This behaviour leads to an increased risk of eye infection. Showering in contact lenses is one of these risky behaviours. So how can you break this bad habit?
The easiest way is to make the switch to daily disposables and keep a pair of eyeglasses handy. Each pair of daily disposable contact lenses is individually packaged. If you shower in the morning before you put your contact lenses in then there’s no issue.
But, if you want to shower at another point in the day, after exercise or when you get home from work, daily disposables are the most convenient choice. You can remove the lenses you’re wearing and dispose of them. There's no need to clean the lenses with contact lens solution. Simply pop in a fresh pair of lenses once you’ve showered. Or, to avoid using more than one set of lenses each day, wear your eyeglasses for the rest of your night.
Eye care professionals recommend daily disposable contact lenses because they do not require any cleaning. That means there is less chance that you’ll contract avoidable infections related to poor lens hygiene.
Can You Make an Exception for Extended Wear Lenses?
Some people prefer extended wear lenses. Certain contact lenses, such as Air Optix Night & Day and Bausch ULTRA lenses are FDA approved for overnight or continuous wear. These extended wear lenses can be worn for one to six nights at a time or up to 30 days. Made of flexible plastic that allows oxygen to pass through to the cornea, extended wear lenses, are, in theory, safe to wear continuously.
But can extended wear lenses also be worn in the shower? The fact that these lenses are marketed as being super convenient because you can wear them continuously suggests that you can. However, the risk of contracting a dangerous eye infection from bacteria present in shower water is the same for all types of contact lenses. Most eye care professionals agree that you should always remove your contact lenses before taking a shower.
Play it safe and avoid showering with contact lenses!