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This is what one of my best friends from college told me over the phone a few years ago. As an eye doctor, this made me almost want to vomit. Let me explain.
You see, my friend found herself in between jobs and on the trip of a lifetime to southeast asia. She was planning to go to Thailand, Vietnam, and other exotic locals in one of the hottest and most humid locations on earth. Amongst all the things she remembered to pack (her swimsuits, her sunscreen, her toothbrush), she did not remember to pack any contact lens solution or a lens case.
To give you a little context: this was during the early days of the TSA, when the volume of liquid you were allowed to carry aboard was ill-defined and was definitely less than the full-sized bottle of ReNu that she had at home. So I can see why she hadn’t brought any contact solution along — she probably was busy taking care of other details of her trip and didn’t have time to buy any travel-sized eye care items. Fine. She actually told me that she was planning to pick up some contact solution when she got to Thailand… but then she just didn’t do it.
That’s where I believe she went astray from common sense. She said to herself, “ok… let’s just see what happens to my eyes if I don’t take my contacts out for the entire month over here.” When she finally got back to the states, she called me to ask if the burning sensation she was having in her eyes was normal. In short, no it wasn’t.
I’ll go out on a limb here and say that every eye doctor out there would say this was a stupid move. My friend was a time-bomb waiting to go off… her eyes ripe for a serious infection. The story ended well, she just had contact lens overwear syndrome and no eye infection, but it could have been a lot worse — like blind-forever-from-a-horribly-aggressive-bacterial-or-fungal-eye-infection worse (see graphic picture below).
– Never wear your contact lenses overnight (even if they are marketed as “overnight wear” lenses). The probability of getting a contact lens associated eye infection is dramatically higher if you sleep in your lenses (even the special “overnight” lenses). There are really no “overnight wear” lenses. Have I been clear?
– Use new contact lens solution to clean your lenses every night. Never make your own solution to save money (or use tap water). I personally like the Ciba ClearCare solution pictured here and use it every day for my contacts. It is preservative free (to minimize allergies and eye irritation) and uses 3% hydrogen peroxide to sanitize your contacts while you sleep. There is even a TSA approved travel bottle in this package!
– Replace your contacts according to the manufacturer’s instructions. 1-day lenses are not designed to be worn for 1 week, 2-week lenses were not designed to be worn for 1 month and 1-month lenses were not designed to be worn for 2 months. You get the point…
– Replace your contact case at least two times per year — old cases harbor bacteria.
– Don’t spit on your lenses to clean them. Your mouth has some pretty nasty bacteria in it that could that can lead to an eye infection if you put the lenses back into your eye.
– If there is any question that you may have an eye infection or if your eyes hurt or become red when you put your contacts in, don’t wear them. Use your glasses until you can get to an ophthalmologist for an eye exam. Hopefully, it’s just eye surface irritation or an early infection and not a full-blown corneal ulcer.
If you abide by the above recommendations, you will decrease the likelihood of running into a contact lens related eye infection. I have taken care of a lot of those and trust me, they are really nasty things that you don’t want to get or you could end up like this patient.
One more thing, don’t wear your contact lenses overnight.
(Note: My friend gave me permission to write this post and share her story as a cautionary tale for others. I also have no financial relationship with any of the commercial products mentioned or depicted above.)