Prevent Blindness, a nonprofit dedicated to children’s vision, declared October Contact Lens Safety Awareness Month. If you’re one of the estimated 45 million Americans who’s not yet free from contact lenses, there are safety tips you need to follow until you are.

At Brinton Vision, we talk to people every day who have struggled with keeping their eyes healthy while wearing contact lenses. Here are some of the more common questions regarding contact lenses and contact alternatives, and our advice to keep your eyes healthy for as long as you are able to wear them.

Are contact lenses FDA approved?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the safety and effectiveness of contact lenses, which are considered “medical devices.” You should only use contact lenses that have been prescribed to you by a qualified eye doctor and are FDA approved.

If you are exploring LASIK eye surgery in St. Louis, consider the following:

What are the dangers of contact lenses?

Prescription contact lenses that are FDA approved are considered safe, though not completely without risk. Some of the inherent risks associated with contact lenses include:

  • dry eyes
  • infection/open sore (corneal ulcer)
  • eye allergies and allergic reactions
  • droopy eyelids (ptosis)
  • scar tissue buildup on the eye
  • a scratch or cut on the cornea (corneal abrasion)
  • oxygen deprivation to the eye (hypoxia)
  • blood vessels growing over the front of the cornea (pannus)
  • contact lens intolerance

These conditions could result in decreased vision or blindness. The risks to your eye health increase with the use of non-prescription contacts, including costume lenses. Get in touch with your eye doctor immediately if you experience eye pain, itching, excess tearing, diminished sight or other signs of damage.

A great alternative to contact lenses is Visian ICL (implantable contact lens or permanent contact lens), which uses a biocompatible lens made up of collagen that naturally occurs in the body. This works in harmony with your natural eye to correct vision.

How many hours is it safe to wear contact lenses?

Although this will vary from one person to another, it is generally not a good idea to wear contacts from bell to bell. Many eye experts recommend not putting in contacts until after you get ready in the morning because showering with contact lenses in is considered unsafe. Many patients will put them in just before driving to work. While some patients wear contacts until just before bed, switching to glasses earlier in the evening allows your eyes to rest and recover from the stress of contact lens wear.

A majority of cornea experts agree that you should never sleep overnight in a contact lens, even if it has been approved for this use. The exception would be if you have been instructed to do so by an eye doctor for a medical purpose on a temporary basis. If an eye doctor asks you to sleep in a contact for medical treatment reasons, they will supervise your eye(s) closely with regular office visits.

Can I get an infection from contact lenses?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 500 contact users gets a serious eye infection each year, putting them at risk for permanent damage or even blindness. The most frequent causes of infection are poor contact lens hygiene and exposure to contaminated water or other materials during contact use. Contact lenses should never be worn around water sources. For boating, canoeing, kayaking and other watersports, switch to prescription sunglasses. For swimming you can order prescription goggles. For showering … well, you can wear your prescription goggles, but your partner may give you a funny look. It may be better to just squint.

What should you NOT do with contacts?

Any time you must place a non-biologic foreign object in your eye, there will be a long list of restrictions to follow in order to keep contamination risk as low as possible. Follow tips and recommendations from a qualified doctor of optometry in the care of your contacts. Then, always keep in mind that when you wear contacts, you cannot:

  • sleep in contacts
  • neglect regular cleaning, disinfecting and lens case cleaning
  • touch contacts, eyes or lens case with unwashed hands
  • dry hands with non-lint-free towels
  • swim or use a hot tub while wearing contacts
  • clean or store lenses in tap water or homemade saline solutions
  • wear contacts longer than recommended for the prescription type
  • purchase without a prescription
  • rub eyes
  • reuse contact lens solution or “top off” solution
  • use your lens storage case longer than three months
  • use contacts, cases or cleaning products that are damaged in any way
  • do anything not expressly recommended by your prescribing eye doctor.

Are monthly contact lenses cheaper than daily?

They can be, if you’re a frequent contact user. Monthly lenses are thicker and more durable to stand up to long-term wear, as long as you maintain a proper cleaning regimen. While many people like the convenience of disposable daily-wear contacts, the costs can add up over time. Any time you switch from one type of contact lens to another, you’ll need to schedule eye exams for a proper fitting.

You may be surprised to find out how affordable LASIK eye surgery can be compared to a lifetime of contacts, contact cleaning and storage supplies, and glasses. Use Brinton Vision’s LASIK cost calculator to find out how much money you could save over the long-term through laser eye surgery.

Do you have to throw away daily contact lenses?

Yes! It’s dangerous to wear any contact longer than it was designed for, whether they’re daily, weekly or monthly lenses. Doing so can dramatically increase your risk for serious infection, eye damage and even blindness. In addition, we are becoming more aware as a society about the environmental impact of microplastic pollution from discarded contact lenses. Ask an eye care professional at Brinton Vision about the benefits of biocompatible, permanent contact lenses (such as Visian ICL), which work in harmony with your body to correct vision safely.

Are contacts better than glasses?

“Better” is a relative concept that depends on lifestyle. Many people hate how they look in glasses and don’t mind maintaining contacts if it means no glasses. For others, a busy life gets in the way of regular contact cleaning, and daily contacts that can be thrown away are too expensive – meaning eyeglasses are the only feasible option. For others, glasses may be a fashion accessory; however, even for these folks having clear eyesight through LASIK eye surgery means they can put that fashion accessory on whenever they want, as opposed to not having a choice in the matter. Plus you can buy 10 pairs of fashionable non-prescription eyeglasses for the cost of one pair of the prescription variety most people wear.

Then there’s another category of folks who are active, perhaps big into watersports, and neither contacts nor glasses are a comfortable lifestyle fit. This is a situation where a long-term surgical solution can be well worth exploring. With a comprehensive Brinton Vision Ocular Analysis, you can get detailed mapping of your eyes to determine how your vision correction needs might be best addressed.

What are the disadvantages of contact lenses?

Refer to “What should you not do with contacts?” to get an overview of the limitations of contacts. Contact lenses require a great deal of care in order to maintain adequate cleanliness. It’s a big responsibility!

At Brinton Vision, we hear from many current and former contact lens users in our community who hate the daily hassle and expense of cleaning, sanitizing, removing and wearing contact lenses. Contacts are a big time and money commitment. In fact, the FDA estimates that as much as 90 percent of contact lens wearers don’t care for their lenses properly – a recipe for dangerous infections.

Want to learn more about the benefits of LASIK over contacts? Schedule a Brinton Vision Ocular Analysis to see if you can get free of contacts and glasses for good. Call 314.375.2020.