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Struggling to get your contact lenses in is the worst. Those sticky little domes that hug your eyeballs so you can see better (or see at all, depending on your prescription strength) can extend your morning routine time.
But like many daily habits, there's a learning curve to wearing prescription contacts. After all, our eyes instinctively close up when they sense danger, like a shaking, protruding finger trying to insert a piece of plastic.
Whether you're a new or returning contact lens user, here are a few tips to get this routine to feel like second nature.
1. Thoroughly wash and dry your hands. You can often blame uncomfortable contacts on something being on the lens. To ensure you don't transfer anything into your eye and to minimize your risk of eye infections, get those hands clean. Be sure that they are dry.
2. Scoop the first contact out of the case using your fingertip, not your nail. You can gently shake the case first if either lens is stuck to the side. Then, rinse out the lens with contact solution. Do not use tap water. Plain water can allow harmful bacteria to stick to the lens and infect your eye.
3. Inspect the lens. Check that it's not torn, creased or dirty. Also, make sure it's not inside-out. When the lens sits on the tip of your finger, it should have consistent curvature around the lip. If it's flaring out, the lens is probably inside-out. Flip it the other way before you put it in your eye.
4. Put in the lens. Place the contact lens on the tip of the pointer finger on your dominant hand. Use your other hand to gently pull your top eyelid up, making it easier to get the lens into your eye without hitting your eyelid or eyelashes. Gently tap the finger with the lens on it to your eye. The moisture of your eye should be enough to transfer the lens from your finger to your cornea.
5. Adjust the lens. Blink a few times. Then, look down, up, right and left. This centers the lens on your cornea.
6. Repeat with the other eye. You know the drill.
Caring for your contact lenses
Just knowing how to put in contacts is a key first step. But wearing your contact lenses comfortably every day hinges on you knowing how to take care of them. This is relatively easy if you have daily lenses (the ones you wear once, then toss).
However, if you wear any other type of lens, talk with your optometrist about best practices for contact care. They may recommend a specific type of contact solution.
Generally, you should take your contacts out and put them in a clean case in that solution:
Before you go to bed: Unless you have lenses specifically designed for sleeping, remove your contacts each night before bed.
Before you get wet: Whether you're hopping in the shower or going for a swim, take your contacts out first since you could lose a lens in the water. Also, the water could transfer something onto your lens or compromise the structure of the lens.
We won't dig too deeply into how to remove contact lenses here, but the basic steps are:
1. Wash and dry your hands.
2. Gently pinch the lens from the surface of your eye.
3. Put your contact lenses into a clean case filled with contact solution.
You should be replacing two things regularly:
The contact lenses themselves: Follow your optometrist's direction here, whether that means swapping your lenses out daily, weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. Wearing them past the recommended time can lead to a buildup on the lens.
The case: Swap out the case for a new one every three months to ensure you always store the lenses in a hygienic environment. Many contact solution companies include cases with the bottles of solution they sell.
Finally, prep before you go on vacation. You might want to buy a small bottle of solution to pack in your toiletries bag. In general, when you're traveling, caring for your contacts can be extra tricky.
If you're just starting out with contacts, here are a few things to keep in mind that can make your transition easier.
Know contact lenses are safe
When used properly (that is, taken out every night, handled with clean hands and replaced on time), contacts are a safe form of vision correction used by roughly 45 million people in the US. They're also regulated as medical devices by the US Food and Drug Administration, so you can rest assured the material you're sticking in there is safe and agreeable for your delicate eyeballs.
And know this: Contact lenses will never get stuck behind your eye, the American Academy of Ophthalmology says. That's because there's a membrane connecting your eyeball to your eyelid. So if your eyes are too dry, you insert the contact funny or there's another mishap with the lens, know your search is only temporary and you will soon be reunited with your contact lens, usually with a gentle finesse or a few drops of contact solution to loosen its hold.
Another important myth to bust, as laid out by contact retailer PerfectLens, is that contacts are uncomfortable. Once you get used to putting them in, contacts should be so comfortable you can't tell they're there. (If they are uncomfortable and you haven't been wearing them for too long, contact your eye doctor to see if you need a new brand or a different eye measurement.)
Ask your optometrist for training
These eye pros have all the best tips for learning how to wear your specific type of contact lenses. Some optometrists charge a fee for contact lens training, but there's no better way to learn how to put contacts in.
Try touching your eye
We know this goes against pretty much everything you've ever been told. But you have to get over that initial recoil you might feel. With clean hands, try gently making contact with the white of your eye.
If you can touch your eye with your finger, you can touch your eye with a contact lens. You'll probably find that the lens making contact with your eye is much more comfortable than your finger. That's because it's specifically designed to fit over your cornea, distributing pressure across your eye rather than onto a single point.
Keep your nails short and trimmed
I've had my nails "done" exactly twice and both sets of longer-than-usual nails turned a daily routine I barely have to think about into a skill to remaster, like learning how to drive in snow every winter.
If you're a regular long-nailer who's mastered the art of pinching a contact without nicking the lens, or your eye, congratulations on making it to the next level. But for beginners just getting used to inserting lenses, there's a lot less room for error and pokes when you have shorter nails.
Use both hands
Use the pointer finger of your dominant hand to hold and place the lens, but don't forget about your other hand. You can use it to gently pull up on your eyelid. If you have a reflexive tendency to try and close your eyes as you go to put your lens in, this can help.
Don't put in contacts when your eyes are red or tired
If you're just starting out, pick a time to try inserting contacts when your eyes are alert and awake, as opposed to trying to squeeze them in at 6 a.m. on a day when you're already really tired. Generally speaking, it's not a great idea to put in contacts if your eyes are feeling irritated, and you should never sleep in your contacts because that increases your risk of eye infections (some of which can lead to permanent vision loss) by six or eight times, the AAO says.
Similarly, you should use rewetting or eye drops if they're recommended by your eye doctor, the AAO says, especially if you're starting out in contacts. Drinking water will also help stave off dry eyes and ease your eyes into the transition with contact lenses.
Why are my contact lenses uncomfortable?
On that note, let's talk about what can go wrong with your contacts. If you just got them, it might take some getting used to. Note: It might feel odd, but it should never feel uncomfortable. If you continually try to wear your contacts and feel like something's stuck in your eye, talk to your optometrist. You may need a different type of lens.
If your optometrist is confident you're in the right lenses but one feels uncomfortable after you put it in, follow these steps:
Don't rub your eyes. Resist the urge. Blinking can help the lens settle into a comfortable spot, but rubbing your eye can cause it to fold. That will only make you more uncomfortable. Plus, if something is stuck between the contact lens and your cornea, rubbing it can scratch your eye.
Take it out and check it. A lot of the time, if your lens feels uncomfortable, it's because some debris is stuck to it, which is transferred to your eye when you put it in. Look closely at the lens. Even a tiny little thread or speck of dirt feels catastrophic once it contacts your eye. Also, make sure the lens isn't torn (which will make it feel like something's in your eye) or inside-out.
Check your eyes. If something was stuck to the contact, it could now be stuck to your eye. You might want to use some eye drops to flush your eye.
Try again. When you're learning how to put in contacts, it may take a couple of tries to get it right. Once you know the lens and your eye are both debris-free, try putting the lens back in.
Keep your glasses handy. Learning how to put contacts in takes time. If you're having a particularly hard time one morning, stick with glasses that day. You don't want to irritate your eye repeatedly trying to get your contacts in.
The bottom line
You're not alone in this. It takes most people at least a couple weeks to get comfortable wearing contact lenses. Stick with it -- paying careful attention to keeping your lenses clean and debris-free -- and it should get easier with time.
If it doesn't, the lenses themselves could be to blame. Talk with your optometrist and consider your online contact lens options to find what's best for your specific eyes.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.