It’s estimated that 45 million people in the United States wear contact lenses. These small lenses can make a huge difference in the quality of life for wearers, but it’s important to handle them safely. Improper care can cause all sorts of issues, including serious infections.

Whether you’ve been wearing contacts for years, or are about to use them for the first time, here are the safest ways to put in, remove, and care for your lenses.

The most common type of hard lens is called a rigid gas permeable lens. These hard lenses allow oxygen to get to your cornea. They’re also more durable than soft lenses, so they last longer. Soft contact lenses are a more popular choice than hard lenses, though.

On the downside, hard contact lenses are more likely to cause infections. They may also be less comfortable than soft lenses.

Despite their differences, you can put hard and soft contacts in the same way, following the steps outlined above.

If you’ve just started wearing contact lenses, know that they may feel slightly uncomfortable for the first few days. This is more common with hard lenses.

If your eye feels dry once you’ve put in your lens, try using rewetting drops made specifically for contacts.

If a lens feels scratchy, hurts, or irritates your eye after putting it in, follow these steps:

  1. First, don’t rub your eyes. This can damage your contact lens or increase the discomfort.
  2. Wash and dry your hands well. Then remove the lens and rinse it thoroughly with contact lens solution. This can get rid of any dirt or debris that may be stuck to the lens, making it feel uncomfortable.
  3. Inspect the lens carefully to make sure it’s not torn or damaged. If it is, discard the lens and use a new one. If you don’t have a spare, make sure to follow up with your eye doctor right away.
  4. If the lens isn’t damaged, carefully reinsert it into your eye once it’s been thoroughly rinsed and cleaned.
  5. If your lens is often uncomfortable and the above steps don’t work, or you also have redness or burning, stop wearing your lenses and call your doctor.

To keep your eyes healthy, it’s important to follow the proper care instructions for your contact lenses. Not doing so can lead to numerous eye conditions, including serious infections.

In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), serious eye infections that can result in blindness affect approximately 1 out of every 500 contact lens wearers each year.

The easiest way to reduce your risk of eye infections and other complications is to care for your lenses properly.

Some important pointers for care include the following bits of advice:

DO make sure you wash and dry your hands thoroughly before putting in or removing your lenses. DON’T wear your lenses for longer than the prescribed amount of time.
DO make sure to store contact lenses overnight in disinfecting solution.DON’T store lenses overnight in saline. Saline is great for rinsing, but not for storing contact lenses.
DO throw out the solution in your lens case after you put your lenses in your eyes. DON’T reuse the disinfecting solution in your lens case.
DO rinse your case with saline solution after you put in your lenses.DON’T use water to clean or store your lenses.
DO replace your lens case every 3 months.DON’T sleep in your contact lenses.
DO keep your nails short to avoid scratching your eye. If you have long nails, make sure to only use your fingertips to handle your lenses.DON’T go underwater in your lenses, including swimming or showering. Water can contain pathogens that have the potential to cause eye infections.

It’s important to know the symptoms that could indicate an eye infection. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • redness and swelling in your eye
  • eye pain
  • light sensitivity
  • eye watering
  • discharge from your eyes
  • blurred vision
  • irritation or a feeling that something is in your eye.

If you have any of these symptoms, follow up with your doctor right away.

Safely putting in and taking out your contact lenses is crucial for the health of your eyes.

Always be sure to wash your hands before handling your contact lenses, clean them thoroughly with contact lens solution before putting them in or after taking them out, and never sleep in them.

If you notice any redness, swelling, or discharge from your eyes, or have blurred vision or eye pain, be sure to follow up with your doctor immediately.