Contact lenses are safely used by millions of people every day, but they require some upkeep and care. Oil, debris, makeup, and microorganisms can all accumulate on them over time, and these in turn can irritate your eyes, or worse. As EyeSmart notes, because contacts sit directly on the surface of your eyes, a lens that is not properly cleaned and disinfected can increase the risk of eye infection, so good hygiene is essential! A good cleansing regimen will include some type of contact solution and/or related products and must include cleaning, disinfecting, rinsing, and properly storing the lenses.
While the plethora of solution options may seem overwhelming, know that the first and best place to start is with your eye care professional. She can recommend which products will best suit your contact lens type and your eyes, especially if you have any allergies or are prone to protein buildup. Some of the cleaning regimens may be multistep and others may be "all-in-one," but it is important to understand the role of different solutions and not confuse their use contexts.
Contact solution is a commercially prepared chemical solution for cleaning and disinfecting contact lenses. There are many types and brands, but most of them contain some kind of preservative, a binding agent, a buffer, and a surfactant or wetting agent. These elements effectively remove any buildup that has formed on the lenses without scratching them and condition the lenses so that they are moist and wet on the surface of your eyes. Lenses can safely be stored in contact solution when not in use, where they will be kept sterile and hydrated.
Saline solution is a simple, pH-balanced saltwater solution that can be used to rinse off your lenses before inserting them. It is important to note that saline solution does not contain any cleansing agents, however, so it should never be used to try to clean, disinfect, or store your lenses. If your eye care provider has suggested that you use a saline solution as part of your lens-cleaning regimen, be sure to buy a commercial preparation that has been approved for contact lens use. Never attempt to make your own mixture at home, as EyeSmart has noted that such DIY versions have been linked to serious corneal infections.
In the early days of contacts use, it was common to have multiple steps involved in lens care, including separate solutions and products to rinse, clean, disinfect, neutralize, and remove proteins. Today, many people use a single, multipurpose contact solution that can perform all the steps in one go and eliminates the need for a saline solution rinse. The multipurpose solution appears to save both time and money, but it may not be suitable for everyone; always consult your eye care professional first before investing in-or switching to-any particular brand, format, or solution type(s).
Here are a few additional tips from the Mayo Clinic to help you practice good contact lens care:
- Contact lens solution products have expiration dates; keep an eye on the bottle you're using and discard it once it's past due. Lens cases shouldn't be used indefinitely either, so replace them every three to six months.
- Even if you use a "no-rub" contact solution, it's still advisable to rub your lenses gently between your fingers with the solution before rinsing for a more effective cleansing.
- Never use water or - heaven forbid - your own saliva to try to moisten your lenses; use only the products recommended by your eye care provider.
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