Summer may be winding down, but the sun is still relatively strong as we enter early Fall. We focus on sunscreen to protect our skin but are we making the same effort to protect our eyes? This week is Contact Lens Health Awareness Week so we reached out to Patrick Titterington, OD, an Optometrist at the Lahey Health Hub in Lynnfield to see what extra steps people should take to keep their eyes safe during the summer (even if there are only a few weeks left!).
One of the obvious steps? Protective eyewear. “Wear sunglasses while wearing contacts, especially ones with UV protection. Some contacts will even offer UV blocking,” says Titterington.
A big one for Titterington is ditching the lenses while swimming. “Avoid wearing your contact lenses in the water. When people wear contacts and go in the water, they get exposed to parasites that can sit underneath the lens and incubate.”
Sound scary? Pretty much any water source that isn’t fully sterilized can host bacteria, even the water we drink. “Our stomachs can handle most common bacteria, but are our eyes are different. The area underneath a contact lens is a breeding ground for bacteria because that bacteria can get stuck in this warm and moist area.”
One of the most intense water bacteria is acanthamoeba, which according to the CDC can cause rare but serious infections of the eye, like a corneal ulcer, an open sore on the cornea, which has the potential to cause permanent corneal scarring and even blindness. “Corneal scarring is pretty much irreversible,” says Titterington.
Still want to wear your contacts in the water? Titterington says “rinse your eyes immediately after being in the water. Use artificial tears to flush the eyes, or you can opt for daily use lenses that allow for a fresh start the very next day.” If you experience any severe redness, discharge, or swelling in the eye, visit your eye doctor immediately.
“I don’t want to be that doctor who says you have to choose between swimming or not at all. But I always tell my patients to consider the importance of our vision over one experience in the water.”
For more information on contact lenses and eye safety, speak with your health care provider.