Since the first approval of soft contact lenses by the Unites States Food and Drug Administration in 1971, the contact lens industry has come a long way. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, more than 38 million Americans wear contact lenses. But there is still a lot of widespread confusion about some aspects of wearing lenses. We talked to New York City based ophthalmologist Dr. Marc Werner to set the record straight on how we should properly be taking care of our eyes.
Q. Can I wear my contacts for longer than the package recommends to save money?
A. The cornea, clear portion on the front of the eye, has no blood vessels and it gets oxygen from the air. So when you put a contact on it, it is like putting saran wrap on it, and prevents the cornea from getting oxygen. The longer you keep it on without taking if off and giving the cornea a break, the more problems you will have.
Daily contacts are never made to be reused, they break apart and tear. They should be thrown away at the end of every day.
Q. Can I sleep in my contacts?
A. The worst problem if you wear it too long is the top layer of the cornea can break down and you can get a bad cornea infection called an ulcer, which can cause scarring of the cornea and even permanent loss of vision. Sleep with contacts in increase this type of infection tenfold. Dreams come to you no matter if you are near-sighted or far-sighted, there is no reason to sleep with contacts in. I never recommend sleeping in contacts – even the lenses that are approved by the FDA to wear for a few days.
As long as you take them out at night they are safe to wear for the recommended time on the package.
Q. Can I reuse solution in my carrying case?
A. Every time you squirt solution out of the bottle it degrades significantly. You shouldn’t reuse solution.
Q. Does it matter what solution I use?
A. There are some differences in solutions, some people may get reactions to certain preservatives used in certain brands, but it is mostly trial and error.
Q. If I don’t have solution, can I rinse my contacts in the sink?
A. Solution is always better than the sink, but the sink is certainly better than saliva. The sink is OK, but tap water has bad bugs in it called acanthamoeba that can cause a really serious infection.
Q. Can your contacts get stuck behind your eye?
A. There is no truth to that. I see that from a lot of patients that think that can happen. The conjunctiva is the membrane that wraps all the way around the inner surface of the eyelid so there is no way the contact can get behind their eye. A lot of times the patient will have conjunctivitis, or inflammation of the conjunctiva, and they think their contact has gotten behind their eye, but it simply can’t happen.
Q. Can someone be too old to wear contacts?
A. Typically people start wearing contacts between the age of 11 and 13. Depending upon the person there is no limit to what age you can wear them to. We have people in their 80s who wear contacts. As we get older, our eyes tend to get drier, and it can be harder to wear contacts comfortably.