When In Doubt, Take Your Contacts Out!

Do you have red eyes? Here’s what it might mean.

Many contact lens wearers experience occasional irritation. But if you have red or irritated eyes, Dr. Wallington has one piece of advice for you: when in doubt, take those contacts out.

What to Do If Your Eyes Are Red and You Wear Contacts

Your first response to any eye problem should be to remove the contact lens. If your contact lens is not the direct cause of the problem, it very well may limit your eye’s ability to recover from the problem. So, follow this simple rule: “When in doubt, Take them out!”

What Causes Red, Irritated Eyes?

Quite often, people use the term “red eye” or “pink eye” to suggest a contagious eye infection. But while red or pink describes the color of your eye tissue and indicates that the eye is combating a problem, it does not actually identify what’s irritating the eye.

Only a trained professional with the proper magnifying equipment, such as your eye doctor, should be used to assist in figuring out what’s bothering your eyes. Eye irritation could be caused by a few different things such as:

  • a virus
  • bacteria
  • allergens
  • an abrasion
  • oxygen deprivation
  • foreign body

People who do not wear contacts usually recognize this change in ocular surface color to be representative of a problem and search for a remedy. However, some contact lens wearers seem to think that red or pink eye is something that can “normally” happen with contact lens wear. Unfortunately, that’s not the case and continuing to wear contacts with irritated eyes can be dangerous to the health of the eye.

In reality, contact lens wear cuts down oxygen supply to the eye, introduces a modified foreign body (the contact lens itself) to the eye, and, therefore, increases risk of infection and injury.

Although it is true that contact lenses are, overall, safe to use, they are only safe to wear as long as you follow proper wear and care procedures.

How to Handle Red Eyes if You Wear Contacts

Proper care of contacts begins with listening, understanding, and clarifying any questions that you have about contact lenses with your eye care professional. Once you have received your final script from your doctor (your doctor is required to give you a copy of your contact lens prescription once the fit is finalized whether you ask for it or not), make sure that you receive the exact brand and parameters that were prescribed to you.

Sadly, there are companies that will try to tell you that their brand is “the same thing” when it is not, so make sure you are getting exactly what the doctor ordered. Do not settle for less than the contacts that were fit to you by your optometrist or ophthalmologist.

Contact lens wearers should understand the basic rules of contact lens care and wear, which include:

  • Always wash your hands with antibacterial non-lotion soap. Antibacterial is best since the biggest transmitter of infection to the eye is our hands, and-non lotion to avoid residue on the contacts.
  • Only use fresh solutions specified for your contacts before they go in and when they come out. Do not use tap water, and again, listen to your eye care professional for guidance about the type of contact lens solution that is best for you and your contacts.
  • Clean and rinse your contacts in both directions, before disinfection. A good rule to remember this is: between your face and the case and again after disinfection (“between the case and your face”).
  • Rinse your approved contact lens case and caps with hot water. Then, let them air dry in a clean environment throughout the day after the disinfection period.
  • Throw your contacts out at the recommended interval. If your doctor says one-day of wear, then throw it out in one day. If your doctor says two weeks, then throw it out in two weeks. Do not wait for a contact lens to hurt before you throw it out. In reality, a contact should feel just as good on the first day as the last day of wear.
  • Do not sleep, nap, or close your eyes for any period of time with contacts. The only exception to his is if your doctor approves of your wear, has explained the risks of extended wear, and the contact lens is FDA approved for overnight wear (even though some contacts are approved for overnight wear, that does not mean that there is not an increased risk associated with this wearing mode).
  • Let your eyes breathe as much as you can each day or over weekends without contact wear. Remember, contacts limit oxygen to the eye, so why not give your eyes a full breath of air every now and again?
  • Do not wear your contacts anytime your health is compromised. When you’re sick the health of your body goes down, and so do your eyes. Your eyes are at greater risk when you’re sick. Let them breathe.

And last but not least, be sure to immediately contact your eye doctor when you have any eye problems such as a red/pink eye, irritation, pain, or sensitivity to light.

What Comes Next

Before returning to prescription eye contacts after a problem, the contact lens wearer should see their eye doctor. Just because the redness and pain go away, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the eye has had enough time to heal.

Quite often, inflammatory cells (infiltrate) will enter into the cornea during a bout of irritation. Even though the red/pink eye goes away, the infiltrate (which forms ulcers and scar tissue) leaves at a much slower pace. That is why a red/pink eye often keeps returning to group contacts wearers, because they did not allow enough time for the inflammatory cells to fully leave after the problem.


To wrap it up, contacts, if worn properly, can be a safe method to correct your vision, as long as you follow a few safety guidelines. Make sure you understand the rules and follow them.

If you don’t understand something or have a concern, consult with your eye care provider. And don’t forget the most important rule about wearing contact lenses: When in doubt, take them out!

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