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Contact lens wear remains a safe way to correct visual defects even during the Coronavirus pandemic. It’s always been important to clean our hands before handling our contact lenses but that’s even more important now as the Coronavirus can enter our bodies through our eyes. The best way to clean our hands is to wash them with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds following the WHO “7 steps of handwashing” or similar. These are as follows:
Here’s a great video for reference:
As usual it is important to rinse and dry your hands well after you have finished washing them and before you handle your contact lens as sight threatening bugs are found in tap water. Ideally, I’d recommend using a lint-free disposable paper towel, e.g. Bounty. Once the lenses have been removed they need to be cleaned as per the instructions you received with your cleaning solutions. My preference has always been to recommend peroxide cleaning systems as I find that they clean and disinfect lenses much better with my patients reporting longer hours of more comfortable lens wear. Also as they’re preservative free they work best for allergy sufferers’. Unfortunately for many years now no peroxide systems have been available in Jamaica and despite promises from the suppliers’ consumers can still only purchase cold storage disinfection systems here. For those that are able or prefer to use peroxide systems I recommend purchasing abroad and suggest you stock up now before travel or movement of goods is totally restricted.
No matter what system you use cleaning usually involves as a first step the gentle rubbing of your lens in the palm of your hand with your solution. This friction removes the surface debris which will enable the disinfecting solution to penetrate throughout the lens ensuring complete sterilization once they’ve been placed in the solution. Even when the solutions state “No Rub” I’d still recommend a rub and rinse step. Once you have completed the gentle rubbing to both sides of the lens it should be rinsed in the same solution and then placed in its case and covered with fresh solution.
Never rinse in tap, distilled or any other kind of water. Only use solutions that are sterile and suitable for contact lens use. It is imperative that the solution is discarded daily, once the lenses have been removed and placed in the eyes, and the case left to air dry. Once a week I’d recommend cleaning the case with soap and water and dropping in some boiling water for a few minutes to ensure its completely sterilized, otherwise the solution works on the case rather than the lenses. Typically, cases should be replaced every 3 months for cold storage disinfection systems or monthly should you be using a peroxide system that works with a catalyst incorporated in the case.
Needless to say it is just as important to wash your hands when inserting as it is when removing our lenses. The most hygienic and convenient type of lenses are daily disposables where a fresh pair is used with each wear. It is however just as important to properly clean your hands with these types of contact lenses for both insertion and removal. If you are re-using your contact lenses but not wearing them every day, it is important to refresh the solutions between wears. Most solutions are only sterile for 24 hours so if lenses are left in solution for longer than that I recommend changing out the solution for fresh solution the night before you plan to wear them. If not using for longer than a week, I’d recommend refreshing the solution weekly and then again the night before use or changing to daily disposables.
Should you succumb to Coronavirus please cease lens wear and dispose of your current pair as it is not recommended to wear lenses during this time. Before resuming lens wear please ensure the case gets a proper cleaning including being placed in boiling water or is ideally replaced. Contrary to some reports there is no evidence to suggest that contact lenses or glasses provide protection from COVID-19 or other viral transmissions.
As I’m sure you are well aware of by now the best way to stop becoming infected is to frequently wash our hands with soap and water or to use hand sanitizing solutions that contain a minimum of 60% alcohol. These solutions can be harsh on our hands and are even harsher on our eyes so you want to avoid getting them on your lenses as that would be a serious ouch! Therefore, always wash your hands with soap and water and not hand sanitizer before handling your lenses in any way. Should you make the mistake and get sanitizer on your lens or in your eye then remove the lens and rinse the affected eye with copious amounts of sterile saline or failing that water. Do this until the burning has significantly reduced and can be tolerated but if vision is affected in anyway make an emergency appointment to see your eye-care professional or attend accident and emergency. Presenting to the emergency room should be a last resort as our health care services are expected to be seriously overloaded at this time.
Many contact lens wearers put the health of their eyes at great risk by either extending the recommended life span of their lenses or sleeping in them. Many persist with the practice no matter how often their eye doctor recommends otherwise, only changing their ways after suffering an acute sight threatening infection. As this pandemic causes economic hardship for many it is more likely that people are going to do this; as typically it’s in an effort to save money that they do it in the first place. For most, contact lenses are a luxury and whilst safe to wear during this pandemic they should never be worn if the wearer doesn’t have the funds to wear them safely.
As Coronavirus has been isolated in tears, and there is a fear of contracting the virus through them, many eye doctors are becoming increasingly wary of dealing with non-sight threatening cases at this time. Therefore, it’s not a good time to turn up at the eye doctors’ office with a red or painful eye that in reality has only been caused by your poor contact lens hygiene or wearing habits, as you may be refused to be seen. Currently, the American Academy of Ophthalmology is recommending that its members only treat emergency cases.
Please be mindful that as Coronavirus is transmittable through our eyes the need for good hygiene when touching in or around our eyes is paramount. Should you have any queries or concerns please feel free to contact our offices.
Dr. Aron Wohl