Is it safe to wear my contact lenses in the shower?
In the UK, 4 million of us wear contact lenses – a number which has doubled over the past 25 years. However, it’s estimated that fewer than one in five are actually using them safely. There are simple guidelines, but if you don’t follow them, you’re more likely to get an eye infection. And at worst, this can put your sight at risk.
Dr Zoe Williams met Professor Philip Morgan, Head of Optometry at the University of Manchester, to find out more.
Why are contact lens wearers more at risk?
When we wear lenses, we have more contact between our eyes and our fingers. In doing so, we can transfer microorganisms from our hands to the cornea, the clear part of the eye. We normally rely on tears and blinking to clean the front of the eye. However, if a contact lens is on the eye, then these mechanisms are unable to work as well.
When it comes to avoiding infections, it’s literally in your hands. It is of course crucial to wash your hands before putting contact lenses in or taking them out. What’s perhaps more surprising, is that it’s just as important to make sure that your hands are completely dry.
That’s because water contains micro-organisms that can cause damage to your eyes. They are found in tap water, swimming pools and sea water – so you should never wear your contact lenses while swimming or in the shower.
If you wear reusable lenses, then how you clean them is also key. Every time you take them out, clean them with contact lens solution, don’t use tap water. Make sure that your case is clean, and filled up with solution.
One of the most serious infections is acanthamoeba keratitis. It is an infection of the cornea – the clear, protective outer layer of the eye. It can occur when a micro-organism that’s common in water, reaches the eye when someone applies their contact lenses. Although it is rare, it can lead to you losing your sight.
What to look out for
If you are aware your vision might be affected, or you have any pain or discomfort in your eye, or your eye looks red, these can be early warning signs of an infection. It’s important to visit your optician who can check this for you, and recommend treatment if necessary
At present, contact lenses do not have to carry warnings about avoiding water. However, this is something that may change in the future. Some opticians are now including warning stickers to the contact lenses they give out
For millions of people, contact lenses are a safe way to see the world more clearly. If you look after them, you can enjoy the freedom of wearing them as much as you need.