Can I clean my contact lenses with tap water?

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NO

 

NO

 

and in case you missed it, NO.

More than 3 million people in the UK wear contact lenses, but many don’t follow the instructions on safe use. Wearing contact lenses increases the risk of eye infections. Failing to follow the instructions raises that risk considerably. A recent survey revealed the following:

  • Nearly half of respondents did not wash their hands before applying their contact lenses in the morning (44 percent) or removing them at night (49 percent).
  • Only about a quarter of respondents rubbed their lenses with contact lens solution in the morning (27 percent) or after lens removal (25 percent).
  • A significant number of respondents failed to replace their contacts as frequently as directed by their eye care provider.
  • Only 46 percent of respondents completely emptied and refilled their lens case with fresh contact lens solution after each use.
  • On average, respondents cleaned their lens storage case two to three times per week. Thirty percent said they cleaned their lens case daily, while 33 percent cleaned it monthly or less often.
  • Most respondents said they used tap water when cleaning their lens case

Tap water must never be used for cleaning, rinsing or storing contact lenses. For several very good reasons:

  • infections caused by bacteria
  • damage to contact lenses

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Bugs in the water

Tap water contains chlorine, minerals and metal particles, which can damage both the contact lenses and the eye. Most importantly, water contains micro-organisms, which can lead to serious infections of the eye. The British Contact Lens Association advises against wearing contact lenses while swimming, unless goggles are also worn. And if contact lenses are kept in while showering, eyes should be tightly closed. Why is this?
Because of the Acanthamoeba parasite found in tap water, dust and swimming pools which:

  • Causes painful infection that is ‘potential problems for ever single contact lens wearer’
  • Can eat its way through the cornea and even cause blindness

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Gross eh?

The actual number of infections is small but treatment is long, painful and not completely effective, meaning some people are left blind every year,simply because they did not use the correct solutions and process for their contact lenses and cases and instead used tap water.

Symptoms of Eye Irritation or Infection
  • discomfort
  • excess tearing or other discharge
  • unusual sensitivity to light
  • itching, burning, or gritty feelings
  • unusual redness
  • blurred vision
  • swelling
  • pain

The British Science Festival in Aberdeen heard that Acanthamoeba, the tiny single-celled parasite, feeds on bacteria found on dirty contact lenses and cases.

When the lens is put in the human eye, it starts to eat its way through the cornea, breeding as it goes.  Symptoms of this include itchy and watery eyes, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, swelling of the upper eyelid and extreme pain. Vision can be permanently damaged within a week, said Graeme Stevenson, an optician. Generally it leaves you with scarring. Your cornea is your window on life and if the infection penetrates in towards the third layer you are left with scarring, with a kind of frosty windscreen.‘ He added that many of the 75 infections recorded each year in the UK occur because people fail to follow the instructions they are given by their optician. ‘Usually a lot of it is non-compliance. It’s patients rinsing their case out in tap water or rinsing their lenses out in tap water. Potentially something as simple as swimming or showering while wearing their lenses increases the risk significantly.’

Homemade saline, purified or distilled water are not sterile and do not disinfect contact lenses; they should not be used for rinsing or storing contact lenses EVER. If you do swim or get water splashed in your eyes while wearing contacts, remove your contact lenses as soon as possible, thoroughly rinse the lenses in contact lens solution and store them overnight in the same multipurpose solution to thoroughly disinfect them.

The College of Optometrists offers this advice on how to use contact lenses safely:

The two main types of contact lens are rigid gas-permeable (RGP) and Sclerals or soft, which includes Kerasoft & Hybrids for keratoconus. Instructions for using and caring for your lenses will vary accordingly. It’s vital to follow your practitioner’s instructions.

If you’re using contact lenses for the first time, make sure that they’re fitted by a registered optometrist, a qualified dispensing optician or medical practitioner.

All types of contact lens:

Why is contact lens care important? Contact lenses can be subject to a build-up of micro-organisms and deposits such as protein. If not removed, these deposits and absorbed materials can build up on the lens surface which over time may result in the reduction of comfort and vision as well as an increased risk of infections.

This is why contact lenses need to be cared for on a regular basis using solutions that are specifically designed to clean and disinfect contact lenses

You should always:

  • wash, rinse and dry your hands thoroughly before handling your lenses
  • replace the lenses at intervals specified by your practitioner- an RGP for example should last up to 2 years with the correct care
  • have regular check-ups with your practitioner/ Optom/ Consultant
  • seek professional advice if you’re having any problems with your contact lenses

Eye Hygiene Care - set of contact lens cases

Ask yourself these three important questions when wearing your lenses:

  • Do my eyes look good? Not red?
  • Do my eyes feel good? No soreness or watering, or pain?
  • Can I see well? No blurriness?

If you can’t answer ‘yes’ to all of these, or you have any other doubts about your contact lenses, remove them immediately and talk to your practitioner.

Remember:

  • Never go to bed with a painful red eye. Seek advice immediately.
  • Never bring your lenses into contact with tap water.
  • Never wet your lenses with saliva.
  • Never wear your lenses while you’re having a shower or going swimming (unless you use goggles).

Use sterile saline for rinsing and rewetting and for rinsing contact lens cases- and replace your cases every month, as The Lens Case also gets filthy. Data indicates that lens cases are a significant source of microbial contamination. Proper lens case cleaning and frequent case replacement are essential for minimising the risk of contamination. Cases should be replaced at least every three months, ideally every month.

Still don’t believe us? Here’s what the BCLA says:

Follow these simple tips to help you get the best out of your contact lens solution:

Do

• Rub, rinse and store your lenses in the recommended solution before and after each use (except single-use lenses, which should be discarded after each wear)
• Discard and replace with fresh solution each time lenses are stored
Clean the lens case with solution, wipe with a clean tissue then air-dry face down after each use
Discard solutions that are past their expiry date
Use only the solutions specified by your eyecare practitioner
• Make sure you take all the solutions you need with you when travelling

Don’t

• Use tap water, or any other water, on your lenses or lens case
• Wet your lenses with saliva
• Re-use or top up solution
• Decant solution into smaller containers
• Wear lenses left in the case for more than seven days without cleaning and storing them in fresh solution
• Switch the solution you use except on the advice of your eyecare practitioner
• Use any eye drops without advice from your eyecare practitioner

Sources:

http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Eyehealth/Pages/Contactlenssafety.aspx

http://www.cibavision.co.uk/eye-health-care/contact-lens-care.shtml

https://www.bcla.org.uk/public/dos-and-donts-of-contact-lens-solutions

http://www.allaboutvision.com/contacts/faq/use-water-cl-solution.htm

http://www.fda.gov/medicaldevices/productsandmedicalprocedures/HomeHealthandConsumer/ConsumerProducts/ContactLenses/ucm062589.htm

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5 thoughts on “Can I clean my contact lenses with tap water?

  1. Thanks, Rae, for all the great info! I can barely wear my sclerals due to my severely dry eyes, but my optom’s assistant told me I could rinse my lenses with tap water, and the water here is full of minerals, too!!! I only did that for a few weeks (I was concerned with limescale) and they hurt a little less if I use my solution: Boston Simplus in the US.

    No one told me a thing about the lens cases, but it says to change them within 2 months, so I note that on my calendar. Now, the cases also say to rinse with hot water, which is what I do because my solution is expensive and I go through it so fast, even though I can only wear my lenses less than 10 hrs/week (2-3 days for a few hrs). So, I think this must be bad advice too per your post! Do I really need to pour a bunch of solution into the case every time I take the lenses out to sanitize it? Argh, why is my doctor such an idiot (and the only scleral lens fitter in my city)?

    Great post as usual!
    A x

    • dweezil1968 says:

      Thanks! Saline is ok for rinsing cases instead of tap water. Cases should be wiped too to remove any excess liquid. Using the solutions is another option. I change mine every month pretty much when the solutions run out.
      Someone on the Facebook page posted they clean lenses with “tap water and gel soap” and always have. Dear God! We can only advise.
      Thanks for reading and commenting as ever
      Rae

      • Oh, good. My saline lasts forever and is so cheap compared to the Simplus solution that lasts 1 month. I’ll do that to clean the case and as I live in the desert, it’ll be dry by the time I get back! What would I do without your blog? :)
        Thanks a million…

  2. […] remove your lenses, you must clean them prior to overnight storage. Always use the correct solution, never use tap water. Change your contact lens case regularly as bacteria will happily live in the little damp case, that […]

  3. Great post! Been reading a lot about wearing contacts. Thanks for the info here!

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