Depending on a person’s needs, contact lenses can make a convenient alternative to glasses. Not only do they offer a more natural visual experience to those with impaired eyesight, but don’t get in the way during certain activities, such as exercising or playing sports. Of course, there are pros and cons to choosing contacts over glasses. The latter remain pretty low maintenance, while contacts require proper care if wearers don’t want to damage their eyes.

Since contact lenses are pieces of plastic or glass that sit directly on the eye, they need to be stored and cleaned carefully. Not doing so can result in painful consequences, ranging from irritation and mild infections to more serious damage.

Fortunately, adhering to proper contact care protocols significantly decreases the chance you’ll suffer such repercussions.

So, what does proper contact lens care entail?

Cleaning: How a person cleans their contact lenses will depend on the type of lenses they wear. Extended-wear lenses only need to be cleaned once a week, while soft contacts are typically cleansed daily. Ask your eye doctor how frequently you should be rinsing your current lenses. Whenever you do wash them, here are some tips for doing so:

· Rinse your hands with a mild soap before putting your contacts in. This will make sure any bacteria on your hands doesn’t get into your eyes.

· If you use products with strong perfumes or chemicals, don’t put your contacts in immediately after using them. Those chemicals will be on your hands and could get into your eyes. At best, it will be a painful experience. At worst, you’ll cause actual damage.

· Never use tap water to clean your contacts. Even distilled water risks getting particles in your eyes. Always use contact solution to rinse your lenses.

· Keep your fingernails short, if possible, to avoid scratching your lenses or eyes.

Storage: If you have daily disposable contacts, you won’t need to worry about storing them overnight. Those with ordinary daily-wear lenses, however, can’t sleep with them in. That means they need to store them overnight and clean them before reapplying.

Here are the best tips for safely and hygienically storing your lenses:

· To avoid cross-contaminating your contact lenses, keep your case clean. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends rinsing your case with sterile contact lens solution. You should clean the case each time you use it.

· No matter how much you clean your contact case, you should try to replace it every couple of months. This will prevent bacteria from building up inside of it.

· You’ll have to submerge your contacts in solution while they’re in your case, and most people use solution to clean them as well. Therefore, you need to make sure the tip of your solution bottle isn’t touching any surfaces. This can cause it to pick up dirt or germs that could get into your eye. If your solution bottle does touch something it shouldn’t, clean the top in the same manner you’d wash your case.

Proper Use: If you want to avoid harming your eyes, how long you wear contacts is also important. While some lenses are made for extended use, many of them need to be taken out daily. Your eye doctor will be the best person to guide you on the proper duration to wear your specific lenses. However, these tips will also help you avoid damage or infection from improper usage:

· If you don’t have extended-wear lenses, never sleep with your contacts in. This will prevent oxygen from reaching your cornea and can lead to more serious medical issues.

· Never wear someone else’s contact lenses, and don’t put the same lens in both eyes. This can lead to cross-contamination of germs and eye infections. (Yes, it can happen even just from switching between your own eyes!)

· Keep your eyes moist. Contacts can decrease the flow of oxygen to your cornea even when you aren’t sleeping. Taking advantage of rewetting solution or saline solution can help retain the moisture and flow of oxygen.

· Avoid wearing contacts when you’re in water. This includes both showering and swimming.

· Adhere to the contact schedule your doctor gives you and attend eye exams regularly.

How to Tell If Your Contacts Are Inside Out

Since contact lenses are clear all the way through, it can be difficult to tell if they’re inside out. Fortunately, putting them in backwards won’t actually harm your eye. It does tend to feel uncomfortable, however, especially if they begin moving around. So, how can you tell if your contact lenses are inside out?

There are a few ways to determine this, but placing the lens on your finger with the tips facing upwards is arguably the easiest. Looking closely at its side profile, the edges should point upward and meet when you pinch the lens. If the edges are curving outwards, it’s most likely inside out.

Consequences of Improper Care and Over-Wearing

Not properly caring for your contact lenses can have a host of consequences, none of which you’ll want to experience. The most common effect of poor lens hygiene is infection, which can cause irritation around the eyes. Those who experience such infections won’t be able to wear their contacts while they heal. They’ll experience symptoms such as swelling, eye discharge, and even blurred vision.

Infections are typically treatable with antibiotics, but repeated or particularly bad ones can also lead to lasting eye damage.

Because contacts feel natural and offer convenience, it can be easy to fall into the trap of over-wearing them. Medical professionals warn against this, however. Over-use can create serious medical problems for contact wearers, including:

· Keratitis: Keratitis occurs when your cornea becomes inflamed, something that can happen if you over-wear or sleep with your contacts. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), keratitis accounts for more than one million clinical visits annually. And although mild cases cause pain and irritation, keratitis can impact your vision overall. It’s not something contact wearers should risk.

· Corneal Ulcers: Corneal ulcers occur when corneal tissue is lost, something that can result from over-use of contacts. Much like Keratitis — and sometimes occurring simultaneously — corneal ulcers can cause scarring on your eyes. It can also result in worsened eyesight.

· Bacterial Infection: Wearing your contacts without cleaning them can, naturally, lead to a bacterial infection. As discussed in the section above, such infections can cause permanent damage over time.

· Temporary or Permanent Blindness: Loss of vision is an extreme effect of over-wearing contact lenses, but it shouldn’t be ignored. Repeatedly getting infections and harming your cornea can eventually lead to blindness. It’s a scary thought, but one that will hopefully persuade contact users to proceed with caution.