Planning to hit the beach or hiking trails this summer? If you wear contacts, they may prevent you from getting the most out of these fun activities.
Besides being inconvenient, contacts can also be a health hazard. This is partly because they provide an ideal environment for microorganisms to thrive.
“The most popular [bacteria] thrive in high toxicity, low oxygen environments, which contact lenses tend to create,” said Dr. Steven Stetson, medical director of Diamond Vision clinics.
People who wear contacts are nine times more likely to get an eye infection caused by the virulent types of the common Pseudomonas bacteria. They are also more likely to get infections from fungi and the rare but very harmful acanthamoeba, a microscopic amoeba frequently found in fresh water and soil.
Contacts can also rough up the cornea, especially in combination with sand.
“If you get sand in your eye and then you rub the eye, you can abrade the cornea and create an entry pathway for any of these bugs,” Dr. Stetson said.
Sand is also prime real estate for fungi.
“Lots of fungi live in sand. That’s a really bad infection to get in the cornea,” he said. “They’re very slow-burning and hard to detect.”
Since both the Pseudomonas bacteria and the acanthamoeba are found in soil and water, they thrive in summer fun zones such as the beach. In addition, water can carry pollen and dust that can irritate the eyes when they get trapped under contacts.
Contacts are likewise not ideal for camping and hiking.
Besides issues like irritation from dust or campfire smoke, it’s hard to take proper care of your contacts outdoors. Saline solution can get contaminated and it’s easy to forget or put off taking your lenses out at night.
The solution? Ditch your contacts on the trails, at the beach, and in the water. Can’t see without them? Here are some great alternatives to consider.
Clear Vision, Without the Hassle
If you really cannot see without prescriptive eyewear, glasses are much better than contacts in sandy situations, Dr. Stetson said. Prescription sunglasses that wrap around your face can be a good option (if the cost is not prohibitive), or you can buy nonprescription sunglasses that will fit over your regular glasses.
If you wear your contacts in the water, Dr. Stetson recommends taking them out as soon as possible after you get out. Ideally, let your eyes rest for at least 30 minutes before putting new contacts in.
If high-impact water sports like water skiing and wakeboarding are a big part of your summer fun, but you can’t do without vision assistance, then you’ll want to invest in good quality protective goggles, or consider eye surgery such as LASIK.
Surgery may seem like a big, not to mention risky and costly, undertaking just to enjoy summer more, but Dr. Stetson said that in the long run, surgery can help keep your eyes healthier, and may actually save you money and hassle.
“It’s much safer to have your own eye anatomy protecting you—your own tear film, your own cornea,” he said.
He also cited research that showed that over the course of 10 years, people who had refractive surgery were much less apt to develop eye infections than those who wore contacts.
The actual risk from surgery is also extremely low, as much of it is done with lasers, not scalpels. And with the improvements in techniques and diagnostics over the years, the vast majority of patients now only ever need one surgery, he said.
Although few insurance plans will cover eye surgery entirely, they increasingly cover it partially, Dr. Stetson said. You can also use flex spending or health savings accounts and pre-tax dollars to pay for eye surgery.
So if you add up the costs of contacts, which can be several hundred dollars a year without insurance, you could very well save the cost of surgery within a decade—not to mention avoiding an eye infection.
Dr. Stetson said one question patients sometimes have about having refractive eye surgeries like LASIK is how their eyes will age after surgery. While these surgeries can correct near- and farsightedness, they cannot alter age-related vision decline, which happens when the lens of the eye thickens and hardens.
For age-related vision problems, in recent years the FDA has approved two implantable inlays, the KAMRA and Raindrop, which can restore youthful vision. These tiny lenses are permanently placed inside the cornea, so they do not carry the same risks as removable contacts and are hassle free. Dr. Stetson performs both the KAMRA and Raindrop inlay procedures at the Diamond Vision clinic in Manhattan.
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