Contact lenses can significantly improve vision, which is great. But contact wearers often use them improperly. Contacts are mostly safe, but if you make mistakes in how you clean and wear them, you could be putting yourself at risk for a number of complications:

  • Eye infections: Infections in your eyes can be serious. Since 2006, there have been three outbreaks of amoebic and fungal eye infections that were severe enough to cause blindness.
  • Allergies: Allergens can get trapped behind your lenses, causing a reaction.
  • Scratches: Dirt and debris on contact lenses can lead to scratches on your cornea.
  • Dry eyes: Chronic dry eye, a potentially serious and uncomfortable condition, can be triggered or worsened by inappropriate use of contact lenses.
  • Giant papillary conjunctivitis: This condition, in which inflammation leads to uncomfortable bumps under your eyelids, is often caused by contact lenses.

To use enjoy better vision safely, take a look at these common mistakes you can avoid making with your contacts:

1. Not getting an eye checkup every year

Your vision seems to be about the same, and you don’t have any noticeable problems with your eyes, so you skipped the appointment this year, right? Many of us are guilty of this.

But if you wear contacts, you need to get an eye checkup every single year. Wearing contact lenses increases your risk of developing an eye infection and other complications even if you try to do everything right, so that annual appointment is important.

It’s also important to be sure you don’t need a new prescription. The changes in your vision may be slow enough that you don’t notice it worsening. Your annual eye exam also includes a screening for glaucoma and an overall evaluation of eye health.

2. Not cleaning your lenses correctly

A quick rinse with contact lens solution isn’t enough to clean your lenses. You’re automatically at an increased risk for eye infections because you wear contacts. You can reduce that risk by cleaning your lenses the right way. This means actually rubbing each lens with the cleaning solution, even if it’s labeled as “no rub.” Always rinse your lenses with store-bought solution. Homemade saline solution and tap water may contain infectious agents, but your packaged solution is sterile. Don’t use saliva either — it’s full of bacteria.

3. Handling your lenses with dirty hands

You can take all the steps necessary to wash your lenses as recommended. But if you do so without washing your hands, none of it matters. You could be introducing bacteria, viruses, fungus, or amoebic parasites to your contacts, increasing your risk of eye infections later. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, and then dry them with a clean towel before handling your lenses.

4. Sleeping in your contacts

Some lenses can be worn overnight, and if that includes your contacts, your doctor will tell you. Otherwise, you should never sleep in contact lenses. Doing so increases the risk of getting a corneal infection. Even those extended-wear lenses that are designed to be worn all night carry some increased risk of infection.

5. Swimming with contacts

Immersing your head in any type of water when you’re wearing contact lenses is a bad idea. Avoid swimming anywhere with your lenses in, and take your lenses out before a bath or shower. Don’t wear them in a hot tub, even if you don’t think you’ll be dunking your head. Getting water in your eyes with contacts on increases your risk of developing an infection. Just one dip into water can cause bacteria to start growing on your lenses. Take your contacts out before going in water, and wear your glasses, get prescription swim goggles, or make do without any correction.

6. Wearing daily lenses as extended lenses

It can be tempting to wear your contact lenses longer than is recommended, especially those times when you run out and don’t have time to get more. Daily lenses are designed to be used for one day, no longer. These “soft” contact lenses are more expensive, but they carry a lower risk of infection as long as you dispose of them as often as is recommended. Wearing these lenses longer can lead to serious eye damage, including corneal infections, temporarily impaired vision, and intolerance to lenses.

7. Not getting a prescription for “decorative” contact lenses

Decorative contact lenses are used for fashion, not for vision correction. These include lenses that change the color of your iris, as well as contacts used for Halloween or theater costumes. Although most of these products don’t correct vision, they are considered medical devices and are evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. You should only wear them under the direction of an eye doctor to ensure you know how to use them correctly and safely.

The takeaway

Wearing contact lenses is a great modern convenience. For many, it beats wearing glasses every day, but it comes with risks. Avoid making these common mistakes, and you can significantly reduce the risk of getting an infection or damage that could really harm your eyes.