Pink eye, which is an inflammation of the membrane covering the white part of your eye, is usually caused by an infection. Wearing soft contact lenses can make you more likely to get pink eye.
While there are several types of pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, medical authorities recognize that soft contact lens wearers are more likely to get giant papillary conjunctivitis, or GPC. GPC is an abnormal immune response to something in the eye, such as a contact lens, or suture following eye surgery. It usually affects both eyes and is characterized by red bumps on the under sides of the eyelids. Other symptoms include itching, tearing, and a heavy discharge from the eyes. These symptoms typically make it too uncomfortable to wear your contact lenses.
How Pink Eye is Transmitted
Viral and bacterial pink eye can be spread by direct contact, such as when someone touches their infected eye then transfers the virus or bacteria to a door knob or other object. It can also be spread through the air by coughing or sneezing, and may be transferred on pillowcases or shared towels.
If you get pink eye, your eye doctor will most likely tell you to stop wearing your contact lenses until the infection is gone.
What About Cleaning My Contacts?
If you wear rigid lenses, the CDC recommends soaking them for at least 10 minutes in hydrogen peroxide to make sure the virus is destroyed.
Standard solutions for soft contact lenses will kill the most common virus associated with pink eye. But fragments of the virus may cause a recurrent infection, so replacing soft lenses is the best course of action.
The virus that causes pink eye can survive in a dormant state on counter tops, door knobs and other surfaces for up to a month. If you have pink eye, be sure to replace your contact lens case and solutions to make sure nothing is contaminated. It’s also important to disinfect the bathroom counters and other areas such as medicine cabinets where contact lens gear is stored.
When Can I Wear My Contacts Again?
If you have pink eye, do not wear your contact lenses until the condition is resolved. If you wear your lenses during this time, you may make your symptoms worse or slow down the healing process. Once your symptoms clear up, you can return to normal contact lens wear. Some people experience discomfort with their lenses for several weeks after other symptoms are gone. There is no treatment for this discomfort other than patience.
If you have GPC, you may need to refrain from wearing your lenses for a month or longer. Your doctor may also recommend that you change from soft contacts to another type of lens, such as gas permeable, to decrease the risk that the infection will come back. Using careful hygiene and changing soft lenses frequently may also help reduce the chance of GPC. Special eye drops may also help suppress the immune response that causes GPC.
Preventing Pink Eye
Good hygiene is the key to preventing pink eye:
• Improperly cleaned contact lenses can easily cause an infection in the eye. Always be careful to follow your eye doctor’s instructions when handling lenses, solutions, and cases.
• If you wear extended wear or disposable contacts, replace them following a case of pink eye to keep from re-infecting your eyes.
• Replace any contact lens solution that could be contaminated, as well as the lens case.
• When you take a bath or get in a hot tub, remove your lenses to protect your eyes from bacteria that could become trapped under your lenses.
• Talk to your doctor if you suspect that you could be allergic to a particular contact lens solution. Some people are sensitive to the preservatives used in various products.
• Never share washcloths, towels or pillowcases with anyone else.
• Don’t share eye drops or eye cosmetics. If you have pink eye, replace these items.
• If only one eye is infected, try not to transfer the infection to your other eye. Avoid rubbing or touching your eyes and wash your hands often.