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Are soft contact lenses supposed to be thrown away?

Updated on November 11, 2010

Disposable contact lenses

There are a lot of interesting things I hear in the exam room but when it comes to how often a patient disposes of their soft contact lenses the answer sounds like this, "longer than I should." I have to be honest and admit that there isn't a hard and fast rule to how often but I believe many eye doctors will recommend what the manufacturer recommends.

For example, Vistakon makes the Acuvue brand soft disposable contact lenses and they recommend a 2 week replacement schedule. That means throw the contact lens away after 2 weeks of regular wear. When I exam the health of the eye, specifically the cornea, I look for telltale signs of overwear or changes that might develop from poor compliance. If I see that the patient's cornea has small dry areas or what's called neovascularization I have to make a decision if the patient is overwearing their lenses or if there is another cause.

Generally I find that most patients eyes are not adversely affected by overwear somewhat past the manufacturers recommended schedule but that's not to say that it doesn't matter. What's important for the patient to know and for me to explain is that contact lenses can cause potentially serious problems like bacterial infections. The longer a lens is used the more likely the lens has microscopically attracted deposits that could attract microbes or irritate the patient's cornea (that's the clear part the lens sits on).

So what's the best thing to do? If the eye is not adversely affected then I explain what the manufacturer recommends and hope the patient follows that. If I determine that a monthly replacement lens might be better because it's easier to remember that replacement schedule than a 2 week schedule then I change the brand.

There are patients who just might be better off in another lens material or change their solution to another brand and that could solve some of the problems too.

What's important in the overall visit is to determine what part of the contact lens program might be negatively affecting the health of their eyes. Knowing the replacement schedule of the patient is a prime factor that should be addressed.

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