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Contact lens problems

Contact lenses are worn by more than 3 million people in the UK and are generally safe and give few problems with correct use.

However, if instructions for safe use aren’t followed, problems such as eye infections can develop.

On occasions, people may feel some discomfort or experience redness when wearing contact lenses.

Never go to bed with a painful red eye, always seek medical advice immediately.

The British Contact Lens Association says discomfort may be caused by dirt, dust or damage to a lens or because the lens is inside out. The discomfort should go away if the lens is taken out.

More serious problems can occur which do not improve when the lens is taken out. This includes corneal infection, which affects the clear tissue at the front of the eye. Symptoms of this infection include irritation, pain, redness, watery eyes or discharge from the eye. A person may also become sensitive to light and experience blurred vision. These infections are rare and affect around 4 in 10,000 people with contact lenses a year.

In very rare cases, corneal infection linked with contact lenses can lead to vision loss.

Contact lens checklist

The College of Optometrists suggests this checklist when wearing contact lenses:

  • Do my eyes look good?
  • Do my eyes feel good?
  • Can I see well?

If the answer to any of these questions is 'no', or you have other concerns, take the lenses out and seek advice from your eye care provider.

Contact lens precautions

Follow the care instructions for the type of lens you have, rigid gas-permeable or soft need different approaches. If you are unsure, ask your registered optometrist, a qualified dispensing optician or medical practitioner for advice.

After removing contact lenses, always disinfect to protect against harmful organisms building-up on the lens. Your eye care practitioner will advise you on the right system and care for your lenses. Some lenses need specific cleaning techniques, such as rubbing or rinsing. Never let lenses come into contact with tap water or wet them with saliva.

  • Wash, rinse and dry hands before handling lenses.
  • To disinfect lenses, soak them in the recommended solution in a storage case for the amount of time advised. Disinfecting solution should be thrown away after use and not be re-used or topped up.
  • A dirty contact lens case may be a source of infection. Rinse storage cases and leave open to dry after daily use and replace the case as advised. Clean your storage case every week with a clean toothbrush and your contact lens solution.
  • Daily disposable lenses do not need to be cleaned or disinfected as they must only be worn once then thrown away.
  • Extended-wear lenses are designed to be worn overnight, but don't sleep with contact lenses in unless your eye health practitioner advises that's OK.
  • Because you should not wear your contact lenses when experiencing problems, make sure a pair of glasses with an up-to-date prescription is available. These will be needed for driving or at work.
  • You should examine your contact lenses for any defects.
  • Keep soap or cleaning solution out of your contact lens case.
  • When the irritation is from something blowing into the eye, remove the lens, then remove the source of the irritation.
  • If eye drops are prescribed for an infection, you will usually be advised not to wear contacts while using the drops.
  • Don't wear contact lenses when showering, or when swimming, unless goggles are worn.
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