Contacts are complicated. It can be scary, putting them in and taking them out. Keeping them clean. Setting up a station. Switching them out. Contacts can be stressful at first, but they don’t need to be! There are so many things that optometrists, pamphlets, and other online articles can’t tell you about contacts. So from a person that wears contacts myself, here is the ultimate guide to wearing, cleaning, putting in and taking out, and identifying and fixing problems with contacts that I wish I would have had when I started.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read): This article will answer:
- How do I put in and take out contacts?
- How do I clean contacts?
- How can I tell if my contacts are ripped/torn/inside out?
- Why can’t I sleep or swim with contacts in?
- What should I do if my contact is broken?
First of all… calm down!
Before you try to put in your contacts, take them out, clean your case or do anything contact related, calm down! It took me multiple days to get adjusted to the feel of contacts and life with them, and for some people it will definitely take longer. But there is no need to feel overwhelmed or stressed. Patience is the key!
Contact station-the ideal set-up
Before you begin the process of contacts, you need a space where you can safely put in and take out your contacts without interruption or other hazards. There are some essentials you will need to establish your set-up.
- Makeup mirror- A lighted makeup mirror is a necessity for any contact station…yes, even if you don’t wear makeup! A mirror is incredibly useful for placing contacts in the eyes and seeing whether the contacts have settled properly on the eye. The contact will have a bluish tint that is visible on the eye, but only up close.
- Tissues- Tissues are an essential for a contact set-up. They are a sanitary, replaceable surface, useful for drying your fingers (a necessary step for putting in contacts so they don’t stick to your fingers) and dabbing away tears that may come while you are trying to put in your contacts or after you put them in. Most of all, they are better than a towel for drying hands because they are less likely to get microfibers on your fingers.
- Towel- A towel is important to have near you so that if you need to dump the contact solution out of your case to replace it, you can dump it directly onto the towel where it will quickly absorb. Also, a contact will stand out against a tissue or a towel in the off chance that you drop it, making it easier to find. I do not recommend wiping your fingers on towels because of the hairs/fibers.
- Contact Solution- You’ll need contact solution. And a lot of it. My one piece of advice concerning this is: don’t be stingy with the contact solution! If you see microfibers, hairs, dirt, or any other impurities on your lens or floating in the case, rinse the contact and dump the dirty solution for new stuff. My contact solution brand is called “Opti-free puremoist”, and it has worked perfectly for me!
- Light source- In addition to a mirror, you will need ample light so you can inspect your contacts before putting them in and after taking them out. Holding the lense to the light will highlight any hairs, scratches, or tears in the contact so you know it is safe to put in your eye!
Dos and Don’ts
✔ Do~ Choose a spot that is isolated from pets and small children so you can not only focus on what you are doing, but also keep your contact case from being knocked off the surface or your tissues and towels getting dirt/hair on them.
✖ Don’t~ Choose a spot often used by other people, like a bathroom or shared bedroom.
✔ Do~ Choose a flat surface, like a desk or a table with a lot of room and no hazardous or dust-collecting items around it.
✖ Don’t~ Put your contact station by a sink! If a contact falls into the sink and it is not plugged, there is no chance of getting it back. Bathrooms in general are usually very unsanitary and a shared space with others. Bathroom counters can be cluttered with soaps, towels, lotions, and the like. You definitely don’t want soap on your contacts!
When going to school, going on a trip, or really travelling anywhere while wearing contacts, it’s a smart choice to bring a travel bag with you with a few essentials in it.
In your bag:
- Contact solution- Extra contact solution is important in case you need to take out your contacts to clean them or handle them for any reason.
- Backup case- For storing contacts in if the need arises, also useful to clean them out. Just fill the case with solution, take out contacts, swirl them in the solution until they are clean to your satisfaction, then put them back in.
Other travel essentials:
- Glasses and glasses case- In case of a contact emergency out and about, having a backup pair of glasses is best so you know that if something does happen, you won’t be entirely blurry. Even if the prescription is slightly outdated, I would definitely recommend taking an extra pair of glasses if you have them.
- Hair tie- If you have long hair, sometimes it is helpful to pull your hair back in a ponytail before you put in or take out contacts. This is to prevent distractions and touching your hair, which might have microbes on it.
Putting in and taking out contacts
These are step by step walk-throughs of my personal methods of putting in and taking out contacts.
Putting in contacts for the first time can be scary. There are many different methods for putting them in, and when you receive contacts for the first time, there will likely be a “contacts class” where they teach you the basics of how to put in contacts and take them out. But if you need a refresher or are entirely new to the processes, here they are step by step as it applies for standard soft contact lenses.
Step 1- Wash your hands. Always!
You will be touching an object that will be on your eye, and you will be touching your face… you need to wash your hands every time! Before you handle contacts, thoroughly wash your hands. No one wants an infection or a parasite on your eye.
After you do this, make sure not only your hands are clean, but also your contacts. Any microfibers, hair, or dirt specks will irritate your eyes once you put the contacts in.
Step 2- Put the contact on your index finger
Like shown in the picture above, put your clean contact on your dominant index finger, on the upper middle of the finger pad. It should be in a bowl shape–if it is inside out, you will be able to feel it (and visually, the contact’s “bowl” will look a little flatter).
Step 3- Pin your lids
The hardest part (in my opinion) of putting in contacts for the first few times is getting a proper pin of your eyelids. My eyelids were strong, and when I saw something coming towards my eye, the immediate reaction was to squeeze my eyes shut. That’s why my dad–who had worn contacts for about 8 years–used a certain phrase to help me imagine how to pin my eyes. He said I needed to do “zombie eye.” And that was the sole phrase that helped me pin my lids.
“Zombie eye” is essentially the third step. Take your middle finger of your dominant hand and place it on your bottom lid in the middle, and simply pull down. Next, take two or three fingers of your non-dominant hand and pin the upper lid. It is important to pin the lids super strongly so that your eye is all the way open and exposed, like a zombie!
Step 4- Place the contact on your eye
Place the contact directly on your eye. Once it is on, remove your fingers from your face and slowly close your eye. Pat your lid gently to get any air bubbles out that may have been on the contact. Slowly open your eye and test the vision by placing a hand over the eye without the contact in; if you can see perfectly and there’s no irritation, you did it right!
Do and Don’t
✔Do~ After you put the contact on your finger, it will wet your finger with the contact solution. Lightly pinch it between two fingers on your non-dominant hand. Wipe your finger on the tissue and then place the contact back on your finger. This ensures that the contact will easily come off your finger and onto your eye.
✖ Don’t~ Wipe your fingers on a towel when drying off the contact solution. Little hairs or fibers from the towel can get on your fingers and then onto the contact.
Step 1- Wash your hands. Again.
Even taking out contacts, washing your hands is a necessity! You’ll actually be touching your eyes more taking out contacts than you did putting them in.
Step 2- Pin your eye
Yep. Another repeated step! You’ll pin your eyes exactly the same way you did last time. The image for putting in your contacts is a great reference for what fingers to use and where to place them so you can properly pin your eye.
Step 3- Use your fingers to pinch the contact
Place your dominant index finger and thumb on either side of the contact (far sides of the eye). To get a grip on the contact, apply light pressure to the eye, then pinch the two fingers towards each other. The contact should be pinched into your fingers, where you can lift it away. And…that’s it! You’re done!
The same dos and don’ts apply as all the others. Key points: definitely wash your hands, and don’t forget the “zombie eye!”
Cleaning and Contact Hygiene!
To a beginner, it can be hard to put in and take out contacts. You might think that that will be the hardest challenge you will ever face with contacts… and some would agree. However, in my opinion, keeping your contacts clean is without a doubt the hardest part of wearing them. With that in mind, know that with contacts you will have to be patient and stay calm. Here are two cleaning essentials that people without contact experience might not know!
- Case cleaning- To keep your contacts clean, it starts with the case. Change the solution in your case regularly so that dirt or hairs won’t be stagnant or drifting in the case. But even doing that, you should thoroughly wash out your case with hot water every couple of days. Just put in your contacts, dump the solution out, rinse case under hot water and leave it set out to dry. Do not dry the case with a towel, since that will just get little fibers and impurities right back into the case!
- Inspecting contacts- Before you put your contacts in, hold them to a light. This will expose any scratches, tears, dirt, or hairs on the surface before you put them in your eye!
Things that can go wrong: how to know and how to fix it!
Inside out v.s normal image from Acuvue, dirty contact image from Tracking Zebra
When you first start wearing contacts, it’s common to start panicking the first time you put them in. Any weird feeling whatsoever can send you spiraling into worry: are they inside out? Scratched? Dirty? Ripped? Here’s a few things that can go wrong, how to identify the problem and how to fix it!
- Inside out contact- A contact that is inside out will kind of flare out, whereas a contact that is the correct way will look like a perfect bowl. But if you do put a contact on your eye and you aren’t sure if it was the right way, here’s the worst explanation ever, but also the truth… you’ll just know! However if you still can’t tell, some things you would experience are blurred vision, eyes itching or stinging, and just an all-around awful fit on the eye. To fix it, try to stay calm. Take out the contact, flip it the other way, clean it off if needed and put it back in the eye.
- Ripped or scratched contact- If you didn’t catch it in your inspection, once the contact is on your eye, it will bring about a burning or discomfort on the eye. Take out the contact and change it out for a new one. Make sure that once you get out a new pair of contacts you take note of when you began using them. Contacts have a time limit that you need to be mindful of (more on this later).
- Hair or dirt on contact- Sometimes when you are looking over your contact before you put it in your eye, you might miss something, looking at it at the wrong angle or in the wrong light. If you put a contact on your eye with a hair on it, you will feel an itch, light burn, or discomfort. When this happens, take out the contact, clean and rinse in solution, then go about your day.
Changing out your contacts
Sometimes it’s necessary to change out your contacts when they are lost, ripped, torn, or something happens. But it is important to know that no matter what, you have to change them on a regular schedule.
When you receive your contacts, the box may have a time span listed or your optometrist will tell you a time span (for example: “these are 2-week contacts”). What this means is that from the time that you first take the contact out of its sealed package, it has a “time clock” that starts. After the specified amount of time you need to change out your contacts for new ones.
To make sure that you remember when to change them out, mark the date that you opened your new contacts and set a calendar appointment for when you need to change them out. One thing to know…
Be careful when you open up the individual packages! If you try to peel the seal off too quickly, both the solution and the contact will explode out; no one wants to waste money just to save a few measly seconds!
Things you shouldn’t do with contacts in
If you even look up the word “contacts” and click on images, some of the first things that pop up are disgusting. Eye infections, cloudy gazes, discolored eyes, slimy goop seeping out of the eye, all paired with warning articles: “Why You Shouldn’t Sleep With Contacts In,” “Man Gets Parasite in Eye After Showering With Contacts In,” “I Scratched My Cornea Taking Out Contact Lenses.” How many of these headlines are real warnings to be taken into consideration, and how many are just over exaggerations, meant to cause fear?
Here are some things that you shouldn’t do with contacts in, according to optometrists and scientists around the world.
- Swimming- A big part of wearing contacts is not opening your eyes in water or getting a lot of water in your eye. Swimming without extensive eye protection and goggles while wearing contacts is a surefire way to expose yourself to infections, harmful bacteria, and the like. Water contains viruses and microbes that can attach to contacts as you swim, one such virus being the Acanthamoeba organism (which, if fastened to your contact, can cause permanent vision loss) (Swimming). Freshwater causes soft contacts to tighten on the eye and absorb bacteria and microbes; even swimming pools are filled with nasty viruses that chlorine can’t get rid of! To see where I got the information on swimming with contacts in and to learn more, go to Is swimming with contacts safe? Find out the answer here.
- Sleeping- Though some people will choose to take the risk of sleeping with contacts in, first let me give some perspective–according to the CDC and an article by Healthline, sleeping with contacts in makes you 6 to 8 times more likely to get an eye infection! Eye infections can sometimes go on to cause blindness, corneal damage, and need for corrective surgery. This is because your eyes need a lot of oxygen and moisture to keep them healthy. Contacts already limit the amount of these your eyes can access, but when you are sleeping (not blinking or letting your eye have oxygen), the effects are even more severe, creating a breeding ground for bacteria (Sleeping). To learn more and see where I got this information, visit Sleeping with Contacts In: Just How Bad Is It for Your Eyes?.
- Rub your eyes- Rubbing your eyes may be a hard habit to break, but when done while wearing contacts lenses, it can have serious repercussions. According to the article “10 Things You Should Not Do When Wearing Contacts” by PerfectLensWorld, rubbing your eye while wearing contacts can cause serious cornea damage. If you want to know some less general things that you shouldn’t do with contacts in, visit 10 Things You Should Never Do When Wearing Contacts.
- Showering- Just like swimming, showering with contacts in isn’t advisable. Though it isn’t as dire a threat as swimming with contacts in, showering can still allow bacteria to absorb into the contact (Swimming). Sometimes–to be honest–I do shower with contacts in, just for convenience. But it is recommended by optometrists and contact lense distributors to avoid showering with contacts in.
You’re an expert!
If you took the time to read through all this–or even just scan over the key points–I can guarantee you are more prepared and informed than before, because let’s be honest…getting contacts can be scary!
I’m very lucky to have an immediate family member with contact experience, but not everyone is. If you know anyone that is new to contacts, or has any of the problems or questions mentioned, be sure to share this article with them and check out the other articles I have written!