In the world of contact lenses, “replacing” your contacts can mean a few different things: either switching to a new brand or putting in a fresh pair of contacts if you wear 2-week or 1-month lenses. We’re here to walk you through when to put fresh contacts in because it’s important as heck for your eye health to understand modalities (or, how often you change your lenses).
Replacement schedules = modality
Wearing schedules and replacement schedules are like homophones: they sound the same but mean totally different things. Your wearing schedule for your contact lenses are how long you can wear that one pair of lenses in a given day. This varies widely, but generally speaking, overnight wear is considered an explicit “yikes” unless your contact lenses say they’re for “extended wear” and your doctor says they’re okay to wear overnight.
Every lens has a different replacement schedule, or modality. Some of the most common ones are 1-day, 2-week, 1-month and 3-month. The replacement schedule clock starts running from the moment you break the seal on the foil package of your lenses.
For example: If you have 1-month contacts, this doesn’t mean you can wear them for 30 days over the course of… forever. This means from the moment you open that package, the MOST you can wear them is 30 days from that point.
The reason for this is pretty straightforward. Bacteria will build up on the surface of the contact lens even despite your best efforts cleaning them with saline solution. For this reason, daily disposables are often thought of as the healthiest option for contact lens wearers as you are not re-introducing bacteria to the eye.
This doesn’t mean that the other modalities are bad news, though. Just like any other major health decision, you have to weigh the pros and cons to decide what’s going to work the best for you!
Sidenote: If you’re caring for contacts that aren’t 1-day lenses, there’s a bunch to know about how to clean and store 2-week and 1-month lenses.
Other times you should replace your contacts
Life isn’t perfect. We all know it. Of course there are occasions outside of “yay two weeks/one month/a day has passed and I can put in fresh contacts” where you’ll have to break out a fresh pair.
The frustrating part is that this isn’t really spelled out anywhere when you’re getting contacts for the first time. But don’t worry, we got you. You should 100% replace your contacts under these circumstances:
- Wearing your lenses near, around or in water is risky because bacteria can cause serious complications—including blindness. However, if you do decide to take the plunge and wear them anyway, some doctors will advocate that cleaning your lenses is sufficient enough to prevent terribleness from happening. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) doesn’t so much share this opinion, though. Be safe. Throw ‘em out.
Bacteria exists in water. Well, technically it exists in all kinds of places but it’s especially present in water. When you wear contacts while swimming and you get water in your eye, what would’ve been a harmless splash can turn into a terrible infection. The reason is because the bacteria—specifically a nasty bacteria called Acanthamoeba—can get trapped behind your contact lens and decide to make a nice little nest in your eye. This kind of infection is 100% preventable, so you’ve got the power!
- If your lenses are cloudy.
When this happens, bacteria has snuggled up on those lenses already and the lenses should be replaced.
PSA: There’s a big difference between “cloudy” and “blurry.” If your lenses are cloudy (like breath on a mirror), that’s a different problem than blurry to the point of not being able to focus.
Cloudiness can be a result of overwearing your contacts and is the icky side effect of having bacteria on your lenses for too long. It’s time to toss ‘em especially if you can’t remember when you first took them out of their foil blister pack.
“Blurriness” isn’t usually associated with overwear, but it’s possible that blurriness can happen as a result of wearing your lenses for too long in a given day. If you’re experiencing either of these symptoms, it’s safer to just toss your lenses and break out a new pair. If you still experience blurriness even with a fresh pair, it’s time to go back to the doctor and make sure the measurements that were taken originally are accurate.
- If they’re super uncomfortable and making your eyes irritated.
However, this comes with a major caveat—if you replace your lenses and that solves the problem, you’re good. If you replace your lenses and you’re still experiencing irritation, then it’s time to head back to the doctor.
If you aren’t sure what the difference is between normal “getting used to contact lenses” discomfort and discomfort you really need to be mindful of, here’s a quick rundown of symptoms you should watch for—and if you have any of these, get on the horn with your eye doctor ASAP:
If you’ve dented or bent them.
While contact lenses are resilient little pieces of silicone hydrogel, they aren’t indestructible. We don’t recommend risking damage to your eyes by wearing your contacts after you’ve smooshed them or, worse, ripped them. What might feel harmless in the moment could cause lasting issues later.
When your contacts don’t fit properly because they’re dented, bent or torn, your risk for scratching the heck out of your cornea (aka corneal abrasion) is pretty high. This is because the lens needs to be flush with your eye for maximum comfort. Anytime it’s not, there’s an opportunity for it to do some damage to your eye.
What happens if I leave my contacts in too long?
Nothing good, we’re afraid.
Your eyeball is an oxygen-loving fool and it needs access to O2 like peanut butter needs jelly. When you restrict the oxygen flow to your eye by wearing your contacts for longer than prescribed, your cornea will let you know it’s upset with you.
Tune in to how your body feels and seek medical care if you experience any of the following symptoms and you’ve been overwearing your contacts.
- Light sensitivity
- Angry, red eyes
- Watery eyes
So, there you have it: take your contacts out when you’re supposed to and replace them on the schedule your doctor prescribed. Easy, right? Let us know how you’ve been caring for your contacts over on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. We don’t judge.