Why You Should Never Put Contact Lenses In With Wet Hands

Photo: Erin Yamagata
There are countless health warnings we routinely ignore, either out of sheer laziness or because we don’t really believe our well-being is at risk. Whether it’s using out-date-makeup or only visiting the dentist once every few years (guilty!), it’s easy to neglect our health in favour of an easy life in the here and now.
But if you’re one of the three million people in the UK who wear contact lenses, there’s one piece of advice you really shouldn’t ignore. Never, ever put contact lenses in with wet hands, and do your best to ensure they don’t come into contact with tap water. As a contact lens wearer, your optician will warn you against wearing lenses while swimming (unless you’re wearing goggles) and wearing them in the shower, but they never really explain the risks.
However, one woman who learned the hard way is campaigning to raise awareness of the dangers of mixing contact lenses and water. Irenie Ekkeshis, 36, was left blind in one eye after developing Acanthamoeba Keratitis (AK), a rare and serious infection caused by a microorganism commonly found in tap water, sea water and swimming pools invading the corneas.
When she contracted the infection in 2011, Ekkeshis’s eye began streaming with tears and became highly sensitive to light. "I thought I had a little infection that would clear up by Monday," she said in an interview with BBC News. “But by that evening I couldn't bear to go in my kitchen because I found the fluorescent lights too bright. It was painful."
She visited London’s Moorfields Eye Hospital, where doctors took cells from the surface of her eyeball in a painful procedure to work out what was wrong. The results showed she had Acanthamoeba Keratitis. AK affects around 125 people in the UK each year, the vast majority of whom are contact lens wearers, BBC News reported.
This was when she learned what may have triggered the infection. While she hadn’t worn her lenses in the shower or while swimming, Ekkeshis said she “learned that even washing your hands and not drying them properly before handling lenses can cause it.”
By that point, Ekkeshis had lost the vision in her right eye, but she was told the infection could be cured within weeks as it had been caught early. “It was like looking through a foggy bathroom mirror. I could see colours and shapes but not much else," she said.
However, her eye didn’t respond to treatment and the pain meant she had to quit her job as a travel company director. Two corneal transplants in the years since proved unsuccessful and Ekkeshis turned her hand to campaigning for greater awareness around the issue.
She founded a campaign to highlight the risks of exposing lenses to water and “No Water” stickers that opticians could stick on contact lens boxes. Eventually, she hopes the graphic will be printed on all boxes. The campaign has attracted industry attention in the UK and has been noticed by the American Academy of Optometry.
"My advice to people is simple. Never let your lenses come into contact with water – in the shower, swimming or when washing,” Ekkeshis told the BBC. "Although infections like AK are rare, I'm proof they can happen and the results can be devastating."
And no, despite what you may have heard, it’s also not okay to wet your lenses with saliva before putting them in either. There could be all manner of bacteria lurking in your mouth that may damage your ocular surface. And neither is it acceptable to sleep in your lenses. Be sensible – it's not worth losing your vision to laziness.

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