The Contacts Conundrum

Your 15-year-old has been begging to get contact lenses, but new data suggest she’s likely to struggle with proper use or upkeep. With your help, she can become a responsible contact wearer for life.

Contact lenses are a big responsibility—one that most of the 3.6 million American teenagers who wear them don’t fully embrace. In August 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the findings of surveys of 12- to 17-year-old contacts wearers. They were, in a word, concerning: 85 percent admitted to improperly wearing, cleaning or storing contacts.

Contact lens missteps can have serious consequences for eye health, including infections, ulcers on the cornea, abrasions and blindness. Contacts-related injuries send thousands of young people to emergency rooms annually, according to pediatric researchers. If you have determined your teen is mature enough to handle contacts—good hygiene habits are a positive indicator—share these tips for success:

  • Be a model patient. Contacts are medical treatments, not cosmetic accessories. As with all treatments, strict adherence to a physician’s instructions, as well as those of the manufacturer, are essential, especially when it comes to cleaning and replacing the lenses.
  • Clean with care. Use only fresh, physician-recommended solution to rinse and soak contacts. Water and saliva are not a safe alternative.
  • Go lens-less when it’s appropriate. Contacts should not be worn when sleeping, swimming and showering. Teens who sleep in contacts are eight times more likely to get an eye infection, according to the CDC.
  • Let eye health start with hand hygiene. Your child will need clean hands to perform the rub-and-rinse technique, a tried-and-true method of cleaning contacts. She should always wash and dry her hands before handling contacts.
  • Save your spit. Using saliva to moisten a lens is a good way to get an eye infection.
  • Stay on the case. Set a calendar reminder to replace the case of your contacts every three months. Clean it regularly.
  • Take a selfish stance. Sharing is usually a good thing, but it can be downright dangerous when it comes to contacts. Only wear your own lenses.
  • Travel like a pro. That means being prepared. It is easy to fall off the contacts-hygiene wagon when traveling, so be sure to pack the supplies you need and be extra mindful of your eye care routine. Travel-size items are fine to take, with one exception: your contact solution. Keep it in its original container, as trying to transfer it to a smaller one can open the door to contamination.

Wearing contacts can be a big adjustment for teenagers, so keep a close eye on your daughter as she gets into a routine of wearing, cleaning and storing her contacts. She may need a few gentle reminders about contacts hygiene from time to time, but once she masters it, she’ll be set for the future.