Once you get over the rather horrifying prospect of putting a piece of plastic onto the surface of your eyeball, it can be easy to feel like you, contact lens wearer, are invincible. Now that you can see without glasses on, you can basically fly, so you get pretty brazen about the way you treat your contacts.
But not taking care of these micro petri dishes can lead to all kinds of problems, both minor (irritation) and frightening (vision loss), so heed these tips from Scott MacRae, M.D., professor of opthalmology and visual science at the University of Rochester, before you think about touching your contacts again.
Here's what you should never do if you wear contact lenses:
1. Handle your contacts without washing your hands first.
If you touch your contacts without washing your hands, you transfer bacteria to the lens. "Bacteria are really smart and they move all around," says Dr. MacRae. Always wash your hands before putting your contacts on and again before removing them.
2. Reuse contact solution or leave used cleaning solution in your contact case.
Contact lens solution, as a disinfectant, is pretty effective—until you leave it sitting around, pooling, for days at a time. Bacteria can then overwhelm the disinfectant. The same goes for reusing the same solution, which causes bacteria to proliferate and the solution to stop being sterile. If that bacteria gets onto your lens and onto your eyeball, you could risk contracting something called a Pseudomonas aeruginosa infection, which could make your eyeball look something like this (warning: graphic image).
3. Not dry out your contacts case.
"Bacteria love moisture," Dr. MacRae says. He adds that at least half the medical cases he sees are due to people not drying out their contact lens cases. So, to prevent ending up in the hospital with a corneal ulcer, make sure to air dry your contact lens case daily.
4. Not clean your contact lenses daily.
Bacteria, debris, and protein accumulate on contact lenses, and those deposits can cause immune reactions such as giant papillary conjunctivitis (graphic image), where your eyelids get a million little bumps on them. After that, you could eventually become intolerant to contact lenses altogether. Don't let this happen! Clean your contacts every day with cleaning solution, gently rubbing the lens with your finger to remove debris.
5. Not clean your contacts case.
Even with regular air-drying, your contact lens case needs to be cleaned. Wash it with gentle soap and water once a week. Rinse the case thoroughly and let it air dry.
6. Put your contact lenses in your mouth.
"I know this happens," says Dr. MacRae, but "your mouth has a lot more bacteria than your eye." If you don't clean the lens off after putting it in your mouth, that could lead to an infection in your eye.
7. Overwear your lenses.
"Have a regular schedule where you take your lenses out and let your eyes rest," says Dr. MacRae. If your eyeballs don't get enough oxygen, then the corneas can swell, leading to a corneal abrasion and eventually an infection if bacteria gets in there. In general, your eyes need periods of quiet and rest, so make sure you give them that break.
8. Sleep with your contacts on.
This is related to overwearing your contacts, which you already know you shouldn't do. But if you notice after taking a nap or sleeping overnight with your contacts on that your eyes are irritated, then your eyes are getting swollen and you want to avoid that. Or, bacteria could get in your eye, like it did with this man, and you could end up going blind.
9. Leave makeup on your contacts.
You've probably been there: You're putting on your eyeliner and a bit of that pencil smudges onto your contact. If that happens, don't leave it there. Take out your contact lens, then clean and disinfect it.
10. Keep your lenses on when your eyes are irritated.
When your eyes are red and bothering you, remove your contacts. Your eyes are irritated for a reason—they could be infected or there might be a tear in your contact lens. Whatever the case, your body is rejecting the contact lens, so take it out. If you don't have a contact lens case handy, put your contact(s) into a glass with water. Do not put the contacts into your eyes again without disinfecting them thoroughly.
11. Go into water with your contacts on.
The shower, hot tub, swimming pool, or other body of water can have bacteria and amoeba that can devastate your eyes if you don't disinfect your contact lenses properly. An especially terrifying disease called Acanthamoeba keratitis (notorious for showing up in hot tubs) could get you and lead to vision loss and even blindness. If you have to shower with your contacts on, try to keep your eyes closed as much as possible. And if you do end up getting water on your contacts, remember to clean them, clean them, clean them afterward.
12. Rub your eyes.
If you're a chronic eye rubber, whether or not you wear contacts, you could be putting yourself as risk of developing a condition called keratoconus, where your cornea goes from rounded to cone-like (sort of like a super pointy nipple). That could eventually lead to blurred vision or the need for a corneal transplant. Consider some over-the-counter anti-itching drops to help quiet your eye.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.