What Your Eye Healthcare Provider Shouldn't Tell You

Avoid making these hygienic mistakes

Wearing contact lenses requires responsibility. Contacts may seem small and harmless, but they are medical devices that must be used with caution. Proper wear and care of contact lenses can prevent serious eye infections—some that could even cause blindness. If you are making the switch to contact lenses, you will need to have an eye exam performed by a certified optometrist or ophthalmologist. You will be fitted with your new contacts and taught how to insert and remove them, as well as how to clean them.

Patient speaking with eye doctor
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What You Shouldn't Hear From Your Optometrist

You will be informed of several precautions to take while wearing your contacts. If you hear any of the following advice, it may be wise to seek a new eye healthcare provider.

  1. Don't disinfect your lenses if they are disposable. Debris and deposits tend to build up on contact lenses when they are worn for one or two years, causing the lenses to feel dirty, grimy or scratchy after a while. When disposable contact lenses arrived on the market, most chronic and irritating contact lens wearing complications went away almost overnight. Disposing of a contact lens on a shortened, regular basis greatly reduced contact lens-related allergies, infections, inflammations and general discomfort. However, disinfection is still important, as deposits and debris may make the eye very uncomfortable—and infection by harmful bacteria, viruses, or amoebae can cause you to lose vision and even develop blindness. Disinfecting your contact lenses should be front and center, and remain the most important part of your contact lens cleaning regime.
  2. Don’t rub your lenses with cleaning solution, just store them in it. Most multi-purpose solutions require that you digitally rub the lens with your fingers for at least 10-30 seconds. Studies were conducted in which one group of contact lens wearers only stored their lenses in saline, while another group rinsed their lenses with saline first, and a third group rubbed their lenses with their fingers and rinsed them before soaking. The results showed that the "rub and rinse" method was most effective at disinfecting lenses, while soaking only was least effective.
  3. Always purchase off-brand or generic contact lens solutions. While off-brand or generic contact lens solution is likely acceptable for most of us, some people develop inflammation or allergies from using generic contact lens solutions, which can be due to higher amounts of preservatives that some manufacturers put into their generic solutions. It could also be due to certain solutions that are not compatible with the type of lenses that you wear. It's best to always follow your eye healthcare provider’s recommendations on which contact lens solution is safe and effective for your particular lenses.
  4. Sleep in your contact lenses. It won't hurt your eyes. Only sleep in your contact lenses if your healthcare provider tells you it's absolutely OK to do so. Successfully sleeping in contact lenses depends on many factors, including hygiene, the type of lens prescribed, and eye anatomy and physiology. Certain lenses are designated with FDA approval to be prescribed to sleep in because they meet certain requirements that enable them to allow enough oxygen to pass through the lens to your eye, even when your eye is closed. Although oxygen transmission is not the only important thing when considering sleeping in contact lenses, it takes the most priority.
  5. Stretch your two-week disposable lenses out to last a month or two to save money. The whole idea with disposable contact lenses is to dispose of your lenses before they begin to cause certain contact lens wearing complications. Also, after that two week period, the oxygen transmission may begin to drop, causing less oxygen to get to your cornea.
  6. Store your lenses in tap water if you don't have any contact lens solution handy. Contact lenses require saline, a salt-based solution similar to the fluid in your tears and body. When you put them in water, your lenses will not be properly hydrated. But the most significant problem with putting your lenses in water is infection: an amoeba called Acanthamoeba is usually found in stagnant, warmer water, but it's also found in tap water. This amoeba can cause a very serious, often blinding eye infection. Although rare, contracting this infection often requires a year's worth of treatment, which sometimes results in blindness or the need for a corneal transplant. Water will also not kill other bacteria and viruses which can cause infection.
  7. Top-off your contact lens solutions in the storage case to save money. Most multipurpose contact lens solutions require that after you have manually cleaned the lens, you must store it in a clean contact lens case and fill it with a saline-based disinfecting solution. Some wearers, to avoid spending more money on contact lens solution, simply top off the old solution after cleaning them again the next day. The chemical agent that disinfects the contact lens loses its potency if not completely replenished with a fresh batch of solution. Bacteria, viruses, fungi, and amoebas may not be killed, and are allowed to flourish in that little petri dish.
  8. Stick your contact lenses in your mouth to re-wet them. If your lenses are feeling dry, use an approved contact lens rewetting drop. Putting them in your mouth is not only gross, but your mouth happens to harbor all sorts of bacteria that should not be in the eye. That is a quick way to give yourself a good case of conjunctivitis.
  9. Swim in your contact lenses. Most eye healthcare providers will tell you if at all possible, to remove your lenses while swimming. Once again, certain organisms can grow in under-chlorinated pools, especially in hot tubs. It is not worth taking the chance. At a very minimum, remove your lenses, give them a very thorough disinfection cycle, and keep them out for the rest of the day after pool time.
  10. Share your colored contact lenses with your friends when you want to change colors. Sharing your contact lenses is a bad idea. Contact lenses must be professionally fit by an optometrist or an ophthalmologist. These healthcare providers perform contact lens evaluations to make sure that it will be safe and healthy for you to wear contact lenses. Oftentimes, certain lenses are chosen to suit a particular person's eye. Sharing lenses with others that have not been evaluated for that particular contact lens can cause injury. Of course, infection is also a problem with sharing of contact lenses. Think of women who sometimes share mascara: it never fails that one of them ends up with a little eye infection. Now think of how a contact lens actually goes into your eye and touches your delicate eye tissue. See how easy it may be for new bacteria to get in your eye that you are not used to?
6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Zhu H, Bandara MB, Vijay AK, Masoudi S, Wu D, Willcox MDP. Importance of rub and rinse in use of multipurpose contact lens solution. Optom Vis Sci. 2011;88(8):967-972. doi:10.1097/OPX.0b013e31821bf976

  3. Food & Drug Administration. Focusing on contact lens safety.

  4. Carnt N, Stapleton F. Strategies for the prevention of contact lens-related Acanthamoeba keratitis: a review. Ophthalmic Physiol Opt. 2016;36(2):77-92. doi:10.1111/opo.12271

  5. Collier SA, Gronostaj MP, MacGurn AK, et al. Estimated burden of keratitis—United States, 2010. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2014;63(45):1027-1030. PMID:25393221

  6. Food & Drug Administration. Decorative contact lenses for Halloween and more.

Additional Reading

By Troy Bedinghaus, OD
Troy L. Bedinghaus, OD, board-certified optometric physician, owns Lakewood Family Eye Care in Florida. He is an active member of the American Optometric Association.