Protect Your Vision: Health Warnings for Travel Weary Contact Lens Wearers

Every person who is handed his first pair of contact lenses sits through an instruction session with the eye care professional in which he learns the importance of meticulous hygiene when handling lenses. The first time you hear the routine, it can seem easy enough. You’re supposed to find a clean workspace next to the sink. When you finish washing your hands, you need to turn the tap off with your elbow, dry your hands on a clean towel, take one lens out at a time, clean it with a little contact lens solution in the palm of your hand and then put it in a clean lens case filled with fresh solution.

In practice, though, these rules can seem very demanding. Practically no one follows all the rules (a study published in Optometry and Vision Science puts the number of people taking lens care shortcuts at 98%). They reuse lens solution, clean their lenses with saliva at times and use their disposable lenses for far longer than they are rated for. In short, people don’t take the advice they receive seriously.

Medieval Caves in Vardzia Cave Monastery

[Medieval Caves in Vardzia Cave Monastery, Georgia]

While the temptation to take shortcuts is always strong, it can be overwhelming when you travel – when you are too tired or too busy to pay attention to fussy rules. When you travel, you may not have all the resources and conveniences necessary, either. Here’s what can go wrong.

You forget to pack your supply of disposable lenses

When you don’t have a supply of lenses with you, it can be easy to tell yourself that it’s okay to keep using the pair you have. The fact that you save money in the process can feel good, too. The problem with using lenses for longer than intended is that they begin to biodegrade. They begin to shed material that mixes with your tears and forms a sort of mucus. Warm mucus can be a very attractive growing place for bacteria. If your travel takes you to far-off places, you may be exposed to disease-causing bacteria that you don’t even have the resistance for.

You need to make sure that you pack the proper supply of lenses. Shopping at outlets like the Lenstore website, you’re likely to find very competitive prices. If you do forget to bring a supply convoy, you should shop for new supplies when you reach your destination.

You decide to reuse your contact lens solution because your current supply won’t last you until you get back home

If you don’t have enough contact lens solution with you, it can be tempting to simply reuse what’s in the case or to top it off with a few drops of fresh solution. After the chemical cleaning agents in lens solution are spent with one use, though, the solution can begin to grow microorganisms. When you drop your lenses into a case filled with stale contact lens solution, you’re only getting your lenses properly saturated with bacteria. When you put these lenses on, the bacteria can get into your cornea and give you a serious eye infection.

It’s important to travel with a generous supply of contact lens solution and cases. Most travel mistakes involving contact lenses are easily avoided with a generous supply of daily disposable contact lenses, though.

You use saliva or tap water to clean your lenses

If you’re tired or out of contact lens solution, you may be tempted to simply clean your lenses out with saliva or run them under the tap. Saliva is always a bad idea, whether you’re traveling or not. Your mouth is full of bacteria. Tap water is a bad idea, too. As this kind of practice can be risky at home, it can be doubly so when you’re traveling to a place with microorganisms that you have no resistance against. It can be especially dangerous to take a shower or go swimming with your lenses on. The news is full of stories of travelers who take a dip in the hotel pool with their lenses on and get infections so serious that they risk losing their sight.

All of these mistakes are easy to make. It can be hard to understand how it can be all that dangerous to take shortcuts with your lenses when they don’t cause you any pain at the moment. You need to remember, though, that these problems don’t show up the very first time you bend a few rules. When you run out of luck one day, the consequences can be terrible.

Jon Carson constantly deals with the realities of travel. He frequently blogs about his practical experiences of traveling, dealing with hygiene, mental health, and planning.

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