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How To Be A Stellar Contact Lens Patient

Because I always look this sexy putting on contacts with tweezers!

Because I always look this sexy putting on contacts with tweezers!

Every once in a while I like to take off the personal finance cap and throw on the optometrist one. Actually, the two go hand in hand because taking care of your eyes can save money in a variety of ways. I’d like to share some tips on how to keep your eyes healthy by being a stellar contact lens patient.

Let me say that eyes are remarkably resilient, but when something goes wrong, it’s generally very painful and inconvenient. 80% of contact lens related problems are from non-compliance, which means you know what to do, but choose not to. Before I send you to time out, you have the opportunity to redeem yourselves. There will be a quiz later.

Over Wearing Contacts is Not a Good Way to Save Money

Most of the problems I see in contact lens wearers are due to over wear. Do you honestly know anyone who throws away their contacts after two weeks? Me neither. I don’t think it’s always on purpose, but we just forget. If you are someone who makes a monthly lens stretch for 3 months to save money, let’s look at some numbers.

The most expensive disposable contacts I sell are for high astigmatism. Those cost about $100/box. You need four boxes for a  years supply, so $400 per year or  $33.33 per month. Unless you wear a speciality hard lens or something for a corneal disease, this is about the max you should be paying. If you are paying more, shop around or talk to another doctor. Anyway, are your eyes worth $34 a month? How much do you spend on coffee, eating out, data plans?

If you don’t agree with my advice, take your chances with an ulcer or inflitrate from contact lens overwear or falling asleep in old contacts. It really hurts, you have to be out of contacts for a week at best, and you end up with a scar on your cornea. You’ll need at least two doctor visits, and at least two different prescription eye drops, realistically costing upwards of $300. Plus, you get to wear those lovely backup glasses for the week!

Most people without high astigmatism can get by spending $200 or less per year on contacts. For $17 a month, just replace the things when you’re supposed to. I guess that takes away my job stability, but it sucks to see people in pain for problems that are easily prevented.

Is It OK to Use Generic Contact Lens Solution?

Yes, absolutely, with a few caveats. When you buy the name brand blue or green  bottle solution, it should always be the same chemical makeup. When you buy generic, one time it might be the generic blue formula. One time it might be the generic green formula.

People with sensitive eyes tend to have trouble with continually changing solutions. If your contacts sting, seem dry, or cause your eyes to be red, it could be the solution. In this day and age, there is no longer a such thing as no rub solution. You need to read the box, then rub and rinse your lenses as directed, or you aren’t killing germs. The only way to get away from not rubbing lenses is to use a hydrogen peroxide system, which I actually prefer because of less chemicals and no preservatives. If you don’t like any of those options, use a daily disposable lens. They will cost around $300/year, but you’ll never have to buy solution or worry about dirty lenses.

Big Dont’s in Contact Lens Wear

Don’t ever top off solution. This means empty your case and rinse it out every time you put you lenses on. Topping off solution is like drinking a drink until it’s 1/3 full and then repeatedly pouring new stuff on top while never washing out the glass. It gets pretty gunky.

Don’t keep a dirty case. Look at your case and say to yourself, “If my toothbrush looked like that, would I put it in my mouth?” If the answer is no, clean that sucker off or replace it.

Saline does not disinfect. It’s cheap, but doesn’t kill any germs. Saline is for rinsing. You need something that says multipurpose or disinfectant solution to get rid of the cooties.

Don’t use tap water or saliva. You’d think this was common sense, but honestly, have you ever had a contact lens pop out while driving down the road? Did you stick it in your mouth to keep it from drying out? I thought so. Tap water and saliva add germs. Keep solution or extra lenses with you at all times.

Finally, don’t ever start out on a long trip wearing your only pair of contacts that is already a month over their replacement date with no back up glasses. I see tourists who do this all the time. Often, they lose a lens and come looking for a new one at my office. I’m not being mean when I say no. I am legally required to have a current, written prescription to dispense contact lenses. An old box doesn’t work. Yelling at my staff doesn’t work. Your only option is to pay for a new exam if you don’t have that prescription handy. I don’t know about you, but spending time and money getting my eyes checked while on vacation is not at the top of the list.

Hopefully, you read through this and found that you never break any contact lens rules. If you haven’t been the best contact lens patient, now is the time to change. Yes, I’ll be there for you  if you don’t, but being a stellar contact lens patient makes your eye doctor much happier.

What contact lens rules have you broken?

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net/Marin

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. I am guilty of cleaning my contacts more times than I should to extend their life. In my defense, I do buy the more expensive extended wear ones that are made just like regular contacts and also let in 5 times more oxygen. The eye doctor usually tells me to quit stretching them out.

  2. thank goodness for 20/20 vision! But I used to wear colored lenses when I was a teen, and I am pretty sure I used them more than I should have.

  3. Nice post Kim! I actually do change my contacts every two weeks. I learned the hard way though as I had a major eye infection in college as something got into the contact and put it in the next morning and it felt like someone stabbed me in the eye. I was out of commission for two full weeks as a result and could basically do nothing. My youngest brother though, on the other hand, has violated all of these. I try telling him that tap water really does not clean the contacts and that yes, he might want to replace his case more than once every 3 years…but he likes to tell me I have no clue what I am talking about. 😉

  4. I’ve had a random contant lens question in my brain for a while (perhaps triggered by another one of your posts?) and I may as well get it out here…

    So, I have contacts, but I don’t wear them every day. In fact, I probably wear them less than 25% of days. I probably wear each pair more than 14 times but not egregiously more. Put those together and the supply I’m drawing from is way, way expired. What are the risks of wearing expired contacts?

    • If you want the by the book answer as I was taught in school, expired is expired and should be tossed. In all honesty, if they haven’t been opened or exposed to extreme heat or cold, they are probably fine for long past the expiration date. Rule of thumb, if they hurt or burn when you put on a new pair, they need to be thrown out.

  5. I think I’ve broken pretty much every rule in the book. The contacts I’m currently wearing I’ve probably had for 4+ months…even though I think they are monthly or 2 month lenses. This is definitely a post I will bookmark and re-read periodically.

  6. I think I may be running into the generic solution switching problem–thanks so much for the advice!

  7. I’m horrible with cleaning my contacts. You just taught me some stuff, especially about saline solution. I had no idea.

    • I think we assume people know that stuff because they’ve worn lenses forever, but it helps to refresh peoples’ memories from time to time.

  8. I tried contact lenses a long time ago. I was a poor candidate because I eyes produce a lot of white milky stuff (protein)?).

  9. I’ve definitely broken a few of these – wearing my contacts for too long, and topping off the solution. I’ve tried the hydrogen peroxide solution at the recommendation of my optometrist, but I sadly didn’t notice much of a difference. Whenever I go away on any trip I always pack backup pairs of contacts, as well as glasses. Never know what can happen!
    You’re right that eyes are very important, and we shouldn’t slack off in this area. I need to get in a better habit of taking care of contacts.

  10. Great tips, Kim! I had lasik a few years ago, but before that I wore contacts and may have on occasion broke a few of your rules. 🙂 For me, I wasn’t trying to save a buck or two, but didn’t always keep the best track of when it was time to change out lenses when I was young.

    • Shannon, I was the worst contact lens patient ever when I was a teenager. I tell my patients they can’t hide bad habits from me because I’ve done them all myself in younger times.

  11. I have slept in my contacts once and I won’t ever do that again. That was the most painful 2 days I have ever experienced. I use the contact solution that has peroxide in it and that is something you have to replace each time or it isn’t effective. I will say that I do usually go over 2 weeks because the contact lenses are still very effective, but at the slightest discomfort, I toss them. It is not to save money, but I just wait until the lens starts to feel less rigid.

  12. I used to sleep in my contacts every few months but have been much more careful about it.

    I always top off solution, I should probably stop doing that (or at least change it twice a week compared to once every 2 weeks like I’m doing now).

    Thanks for the tips!

    • Don’t tell me that about topping the solution. I have to stick my fingers in my ears and make loud noises so I can’t hear that.

  13. I used to wear contacts quite a bit before I got married.

    Gradually, I shifted back to using glasses, which I am now very content with. It’s so much more convenient not to have to take care of the contacts.

  14. I remember when I first got my contacts – oh man, I couldn’t even put them in for 2 months. So friggin frustrating until I got the hang of keeping my eyes open while touching it.

  15. It sounds to me like wearing contacts is lots of work. I’d sooner just put on a pair of glasses and be done with it. Do you find certain demographics want to wear contacts over another?

    • I think teens always prefer contacts, and people with really high prescriptions appreciate the optics of contacts vs glasses. Other than that, it’s pretty random in my experience. I’ve fit 70 year old first time wearers, firemen, and everything in between.

  16. I haven’t done the above, but I’ve done one worse. I don’t take my contacts out until I replace them. Sleeping with them doesn’t bother me. I have the kind which [I am fairly sure] my optometrist said are OK to stay in for up to 2 weeks, but I usually do 3-4 weeks, at some point they start to feel dry or one falls out and that’s when I replace them.
    It’s not about money, it’s only about convenience. But of course I do realize this is wrong. I’ve only had a problem once when I did spend 1-2 weeks in glasses, and I get a detailed exam annually, but it doesn’t mean I won’t run into a big problem soon. I’ll take the contacts out tonight and see if I can be more diligent about replacing them.

  17. These are great tips. I don’t have to wear glasses or contacts, but my wife does so I’ll have to forward this on to her!

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