If you’re a contact-wearer, you probably know the Contact Commandments by heart—don’t leave them in longer than 12 hours, don’t wear them for more than five days a week, always wash them thouroughly, don’t share them (omg ew). But did you know that one of the riskiest things most of us do while wearing contact lenses is actually showering, swimming or spending time in water? Sounds fake, but it’s true.
We were just minding our own business today when a story about a man who went blind after contracting an infection while wearing contact lenses in the shower went viral. U.K. man Nick Humphreys regularly showered after the gym in his contacts and contracted the Acanthamoeba bacteria in his eye which caused an infection and eventually caused him to go blind. If you have a strong stomach and a thirst for gross details, check out the story. Alternatively, if you wish to live in blissful ignorance of the horrors that befell a fellow contact-wearer, just know this—NEVER WEAR YOUR CONTACTS IN WATER.
WHAT? WHY CAN’T I WEAR MY CONTACTS IN WATER?
First of all, the American Center for Disease Control and Prevention said so.
Second, the bacteria that Humphreys contracted—Acanthamoeba—is “commonly found in tap water, lake water, well water, and other water sources.” That means, you’re in danger of contracting the bacteria any time you take a shower, go for a swim or splash your face with water while wearing contacts. Contacts are porous and act like sponges when exposed to water, meaning they can absorb the bacteria right into the lens, holding it directly on your cornea. There it can fester and cause infections like Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK)—the one that caused Humphreys to lose his sight.
The condition is rare—many people are exposed to the organism over their lifetime without even knowing it—but it could cause permanent loss of vision and require a cornea transplant which is about as pleasant as it sounds.
SO WHAT DO I DO?
The CDC site says that you should remove contacts before showering, swimming (whether in a pool, lake or ocean) or getting in a hot tub and never, ever clean or store your contacts in just water—no, not even in a pinch—or “top up” your contact solution with water. They suggest that if you play water sports and need your eye prescription to see well enough to participate, you should opt for prescription goggles rather than contacts. It may be less fashionable, but it’s a whole lot better than getting an infection and losing your eyesight.
To be safe, they suggest throwing out any contacts that touch water and making sure your hands are totally dry when dealing with them.
LET THIS BE YOUR CONTACT ETIQUETTE REMINDER
This terrifying story is a good reminder to us all that we should really be taking much better care of our contacts and our eyes in general (you only have two, after all). Sanitize your lenses properly, only wear them for the recommended length of time and never sleep in them (unless they’re that special sleeping kind). For all the best practices you might have forgotten about, give yourself a refresher in contact etiquette.
Bonus reminders: don’t forget to drink water, moisturize your neck and floss tonight. You’re welcome.