Eye Health

Updated 08 March 2018

What teens do to contact lenses – and how it could blind them

A survey shows that most teens use their contact lenses incorrectly. Teach your teen how to use their contact lenses properly to avoid eye infections.

Have you heard about the woman who had 27 contact lenses in her eye? Or about the girl whose cornea was ripped by decorative contact lenses?

These horror stories happen if you don’t treat your contact lenses correctly.

And improper use of contact lenses seems like a common phenomenon in the US: six out of seven teens with contact lenses use them incorrectly, upping their odds for serious eye infections, government health officials say. And South Africa isn't far behind...

Bad habits

Surveying 12- to 17-year-old contact-lens wearers last year, researchers found 85% admitted to at least one risky habit that could threaten their vision.

According to a new US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, these include:

  • Sleeping, napping or swimming with their contacts in
  • Reusing solution
  • Rinsing lenses in tap water
  • Not replacing lenses and storage cases as recommended

About 3.6 million adolescents in the United States wear contact lenses, the CDC said. Outbreaks of serious eye infections are rare in this country. But they occur most often in people who don't take proper care of their contacts.

South African statistics aren’t available, but according to a recent Sabinet article, 50% of users are between the ages of 25 and 44 years.

Of the US teens under 18 who wear contacts, an estimated 3 million weren't correctly following care guidelines, the survey revealed. This was also true of 81% of young adults (18 to 24). Adults 25 and older reported even worse habits, with 87% admitting to at least one lapse.

Take proper care of contacts

"Encouraging adolescents to adopt healthy contact lens wear and care habits might help them maintain healthy habits into adulthood," said the researchers led by Dr Jennifer Cope. "There is room for improvement in order to prevent potentially serious outcomes, including blindness."

Avoid sleeping or napping while wearing contact lenses to prevent infections. The study authors said that sleeping in contacts boosts the risk of eye infections by as much as eight times.

Cleaning your contact lenses properly and regularly visiting an eye-care provider are essential for preventing lens-related eye infections, the study authors said.

Specifically, they advised replacing contact lenses as often as recommended by an eye doctor and replacing the case at least every three months. Also, remember to remove them before swimming or showering.

Special care when travelling

Dr Andrew Pucker, an associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry, said slip-ups in care often occur while travelling.

"Being prepared when travelling is key to eye safety," said Pucker. Pack travel-sized supplies, and think about your destination, he advised.

If you're going to an underdeveloped country, consider leaving your contacts at home to avoid the risk of eye irritation or infection, he said.

The new findings were released in CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, to coincide with Contact Lens Health Week.

Insert contact lenses properly

Health24 has a few tips on how to insert your lenses correctly:

  • Wash your hands with warm water and soap.
  • Open the container and pour the contents into your cupped hand.
  • Poor saline solution into your cupped hand.
  • Put the contact lens facing downward on the tip of your index finger of your dominant hand. Remember that your finger should be dry.
  • Roll your eyes heavenwards, pull your lower eyelid outward and gently push the contact lens onto the lower part of the eyeball.
  • Apply gentle pressure to expel any air from behind the lens, then slowly release the lower eyelid.
  • Close your eye and gently rub the eyelid to help centre it on the eye.
  • Cover the other eye and check that your vision is clear, which will indicate that the lens is centred on the eye.
  • Repeat this process for the other eye.

Use your contact lenses correctly

  • Never keep contact lenses in for longer than the prescribed amount of time.
  • Always store contact lenses in the proper storage, in the correct fluid.
  • Always wash your hands properly before handling contact lenses.
  • Stay away from cheap or decorative contact lenses.

Image provided by iStock.


Ask the Expert


Megan Goodman qualified as an optometrist from the University of Johannesburg. She has recently completed a Masters degree in Clinical Epidemiology at Stellenbosch University. She has a keen interest in ocular pathology and evidence based medicine as well as contact lenses.

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