Contact Lenses and Water – say NO! to H2O

Contact Lenses and Water – say NO! to H2O

Posted: 26/09/2022

Contact lens related infections don’t happen very often but it is important to know how to reduce the risks. Many people who wear contact lenses do not know that contact lenses and water are a bad combination –even when showering, swimming or using a hot tub. Contact lens related eye infections are rare and most are easily treated with antibiotics however one type of water related infection, Acanthamoeba keratitis, is extremely difficult to treat and around a quarter of people contracting this infection will lose 75% of their vision in the affected eye. A new study has shown that daily disposable lenses have almost four times less risk when compared to resusable lenses. Although the absolute numbers are small with it affecting fewer than one in 20,000 contact lens wearers in the UK, this new study is likely to make more wearers chose to switch to daily disposable lenses.

Lead author Professor John Dart, of UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said: “In recent years we have seen an increase of Acanthamoeba keratitis in the UK and Europe, and while the infection is still rare, it is preventable and warrants a public health response. Contact lenses are generally very safe but are associated with a small risk of microbial keratitis, most commonly caused by bacteria, and which is the only sight-threatening complication of their use. “Given that an estimated 300 million people across the globe wear contact lenses, it is important that people know how to minimise their risks for developing keratitis.”

Other findings from the study were that sleeping overnight in lenses also had almost a fourfold risk of eye infections, and that people having recent contact lens check with an eyecare professional had a lower risk.

Water can introduce germs to the eyes through contact lenses

Water can cause soft contact lenses to change shape, swell and stick to the eye. This is uncomfortable and can scratch the cornea (the clear dome that covers the coloured part of the eye), which makes it easier for germs to enter the eye and cause infection. Most water is not germ-free. There are many different kinds of germs in water that can cause eye infections, but acanthamoeba is particularly dangerous – and it is commonly found in tap water, lake water, well water and other water sources. This germ can cause a very severe type of eye infection called Acanthamoeba keratitis, which is often very painful and difficult to treat - sometimes requiring a year or more of treatment. Although rare, this type of infection can result in the need for a corneal transplant or blindness. Hard water is particularly favoured by acanthamoeba and boiling water will not kill it.

Keep contact lenses and your contact lens case away from all water

For contact lens wearers, it is best to remove lenses before showering, swimming or using a hot tub and contact lenses should never be rinsed or stored in water. It is also important to wash and dry hands well before handling lenses and to clean contact lens cases with solution, never water, to avoid contamination. For those who are actively involved in swimming or other water sports and are concerned about being able to see well enough without wearing lenses, prescription goggles may be a good option.

Throw away contact lenses that touch water

If water touches your contact lenses for any reason, take them out as soon as possible and throw them away.

Dry your hands

Infections with contact lenses are very rare, especially with daily disposable lenses. Some cases of infection have been attributed to not drying hands thoroughly after washing them.

What should I do now?

  • Follow all the advice above
  • If you want to change to daily disposable lenses contact us for advice or make an appointment
  • Seek urgent attention if you get a red sore eye even if you do not remember any water contact
  • If daily disposable contact lenses are not available in your prescription ask us for advice
  • Other options are scleral lenses, which create a sealed unit so pathogens cannot get under the lens, prescription swimming goggles or refractive surgery to remove the need for full-time vision correction
  • Don’t miss your regular contact lens appointments which as well as checking the health of your eyes, also give the opportunity to review safety advice and discuss alternative vision correction options

Enjoy your lenses & be eye-safe by following this advice and other tips given at your regular aftercare appointments.

Contact us in for an eye examination or for advice.

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