Are contact lenses harmful to the eye? This is a common and important question that many people have. Unfortunately, even many seasoned lens wearers remain oblivious to the answer to this question. Simply put, YES, contact lenses can be harmful to the eye.

When I say harmful, the complications can range from the relatively mild like minor irritation to complete loss of vision in the eye. In this article, I will explain some of the more common complications of contact lens wear, their signs and symptoms and how you can avoid them.


Contact lens

So what are the problems? These can be either problems with the lens itself or with the eye. As you can imagine, the lens can become damaged, especially with improper use. Tears, chips and cracks can all develop. Damaged lens make for unhappy eyes. Wearing damaged lenses can irritate the surface of your eye, the cornea and even affect your vision.

The lens can also become damaged by cleaning it improperly. Rinsing with hot water can warp it, because it is exposed to too high a temperature. Similarly, leaving the lens in a case on your dashboard is similarly not a great idea. Imagine those sun rays heating them up! Oh dear. Also related to cleaning, squeezing the lenses excessively whilst cleaning them can also warp the lens.

Tight lens syndrome. This is a problem that can occur when the lenses are too tight. How about that for an understandable name in medicine? In tight lens syndrome, the lenses can feel comfortable at first, but progressively becomes more uncomfortable with time. Tight lenses can be a problem, but unfortunately, so can loose lenses! This time, you may feel like your vision changes every time you blink. This is just another reason, why having an optician on a regular basis is a good idea.

Keep your lenses clean! This is crucial if you want to avoid the build-up of deposits on your lenses. For example, exposing the lens to substances like make-up, hair spray and even hand cream can all cause deposits to build up on your lenses. So think about that the next time you add an extra dollop of moisturiser to your hands.

Nasty bugs can also form deposits on your contact lenses. Bacteria, protozoa and fungi can all be involved in these deposits and can form a film over the lens. The fungi in particular can then invade down into the eye and make the infection worse. Not the best outcome for you.

Infections are the most common and also the most serious complication related to wearing contact lenses. Contact lens wearers make up 9.1% of all referrals to the eye casualty unit (A&E for eye problems). If you have an infection, your eye, usually only one side, may become: watery, red and you may experience pain when you look at bright lights.



A question that quite a few people seem to have is: should I wear contact lenses whilst swimming in pools? Unfortunately, there is a rare but very serious type of infection associated with swimming with pools whilst wearing contact lenses: Acanthamoeba infection. This can cause sight loss in one eye. So short answer? Avoid swimming in pools with contact lenses if possible. If you do, consider using daily disposable contact lenses and wearing tight fitting goggles to avoid water contact with the eyes.

It is possible to develop allergic eye reactions. This usually takes days to months to occur. It can occur because of a preservative used in contact lens cleaning solutions called thiomersal. When this occurs, you may experience burning, redness and itching when you first put in your contact lenses, which improves with time. If this occurs, switching to a different lens cleaning solution may be all it takes to restore your eyes to health!


Vernal conjunctivitis

So how will you know if you are having a problem with your contact lenses. There are three simple questions which are a good rule of thumb.

1. Do your eye look good?

2. Do your eyes feel good?

3. Is your vision normal?

If your answer to any of the above is no, then you may have a problem. It would be a good idea to visit a health care professional for further assessment and advice. You may decide to visit your GP, optician or present to the eye casualty at your local hospital. If you decide to do this, it would be a good idea to bring along your contact lenses and cleaning solution. This is because they may decide to test them to see if they are harbouring any micro-organisms that may be causing an eye infection.

The healthcare professional will generally ask you some questions about symptoms that you may be experiencing. They will also examine your eye with special equipment for this purpose. They may need to add some staining drops to your eye and look at it with a special, usually blue light, to see if there is any damage.

So I hope I have answered your question about whether contact lenses are harmful to the eye. Thankfully, most complications can be avoided by good contact lens care.