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Why Contact Lenses and Tap Water Don't Mix

Posted on 28 August 2017

Tap water and contact lenses

If you wear your contact lenses for long enough, you are bound to experience a few instances when your precious contact lenses come into contact with water directly. 

You may think that because your contact lenses already have a certain water content, that adding a little more water to the mix is not that bad of a thing. But you would be wrong.

It's not sterile
The most important reason for not mixing water with your contact lenses is hygiene and your health.  Water from the household tap is not sterile. There are a number of trace pathogens in tap water which can be easily neutralised by the microbiology of your gut bacteria when you drink water, but which can severely compromise your eyes’ health if used to clean your contact lenses in or out of your eyes.  In the most extreme example, a bacteria known as Acanthamoeba can cause a serious eye condition known as Acanthamoeba keratitis, which can lead to serious vision and eye health consequences. So if you find yourself tempted to improvise by cleaning your contact lenses or eyes with common H2O, you should definitely think twice. Always use sterile rewetting or lubricating eye drops instead of tap water to flush your eye. The short-term convenience of using a little available water can seriously compromise your eye health after the moment has passed.

New contact lens wearers sometimes find greater difficulty inserting and extracting  their contact lenses and so are more likely to take a chance and shower with contact lenses still in their eyes. This increases the likelihood that not only water -  but other chemicals such as shampoo, soap and body wash mixed with water - may make their way down contours of your face  and make contact with your contact lenses. Irritants such as these  hypersensitise your eyes and eyelids if they touch your contact lenses and may force you to have to take them out anyway. Even shower water by itself can through it's pH alone strip out valuable lipid and mucin layer that protects and lubricates your eye. In these instances, not only will you have to take out your contact lenses, but you will also find yourself with inflamed red eyes which will ruin the aesthetics you were hoping for you by wearing your contact lenses in the first place.

Of course as part of everyday life, you may have the odd inadvertent splashes of water or rain which get into your eye quicker than you can blink your eyelids to protect yourself. If this happens, regardless of what type of water it is, it is always recommended that you first extract your contact lenses before using a sterile lubricating eye drop to irrigate your eye, and a sterile contact lens solution to clean any water or contaminant residue from your contact lens itself before re-insertion. 

Be prepared
The best way to protect your eyes from the negative effects of water is to be prepared. Use appropriate protective eyewear when you’re engaged in water activities (e.g. sunglasses, goggles), ensure that you have lubricating eyedrops and/or sterile, disinfecting contact lens solution on hand whenever there is a chance that you might get water or something foreign dissolved in water (e.g. sunscreen, sweat, chlorine, makeup) in your eyes. Rather than carrying a bottle of contact lens solution with you wherever you go, a more portable and simpler solution may be to ask your optometrists to be prescribed a daily disposable contact lens. This way, if you ever find that you need to take a contact lens out and clean it because of water contact or any other reason, you can instead simply replace it with a new lens altogether straight from the sterile buffered solution of the individualised packet.