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Contact Lenses and Hazardous Environments

Contact Lense
Contact lens wearers have a lot to think about when it comes to the care of their eyes. The risk of injury and infection always poses a concern. Many people have questions about how the weather or their work environment can affect their decision to wear contacts. Here is what everyone should know.
Protect Against Extremes
Weather extremes of any type can irritate the eyes. Contact lenses exaggerate that irritation and can lead to discomfort. Eye care professionals recommend that all wearers remember to stay hydrated because extreme heat and cold can cause dryness, and this is what leads to eye discomfort.
Hydration in this instance does not only mean consuming water. An application of saline eye drops just before going outside helps too. It is especially important in wintry weather when most people will experience watery eyes. The cold causes the moisture on the eye to evaporate faster than normal, and this sends a signal to the body to activate the tear ducts.
Moisture evaporates faster in windy conditions. Cyclists and skiers and anyone exposed to excessive cold winds should always wear sunglasses or goggles. 
Ignore Exaggerated Claims 
Contacts cannot freeze or melt when they are in use. Studies have shown that contacts would only freeze if the person wearing them were in temperatures of at least -90 degrees. The plastic polymers used to create the contacts also have a high tolerance for heat. The most commonly used plastics can withstand 212 degrees, the boiling point of water. 
Obviously, lens damage would seem inconsequential because such extreme temperatures would cause many other problems to the human body. Shoveling snow on a cold day or standing next to a bonfire or barbecue grill will not lead to any damage as long as people stay hydrated. 
Avoid Water Exposure
Exposing contact lenses to water is a concern because bacteria may exist in any type of water. The risk is that the lenses will absorb the bacteria and leave the eyes vulnerable to infection. Most eye care experts recommend people remove their contacts or use water-tight goggles before they go for a swim or take a shower.
The chlorine in a pool can help to decrease the risk of bacteria, but there is still some risk, and the chemicals in the water cause the lenses to dry out quickly. Contact lenses tighten against the eye when the lens becomes dry. The tightness can lead to irritation and removal of the dry lens could cause a corneal abrasion.
Prevent Sun Damage
Exposure to the sun eventually causes cataracts to develop. Many contact lenses now offer UV protection that prevents exposure. The contacts do help to prevent cataract development, but people should still wear sunglasses. The lens will not protect the entire eye and they leave the delicate skin around the eyes vulnerable to sun damage.
Take to Work
Many employers forbid their workers to wear contacts if there is a chance of chemical exposure. Safety experts once thought that contacts put the eyes more at risk to injury in these environments, but studies have changed this opinion. Hard contacts can protect the eye against some types of liquid chemicals and soft contacts shield some vapors.
OSHA acknowledges that workers that use full-face respirators benefit from contact lenses because the frames of eyeglasses obscure some of their sightlines. The organization does not forbid eyeglasses but recommends that employees have the option to use either type of corrective lens.
Contacts cannot replace safety glasses or goggles because they cannot shield the eyes from projectiles. The researchers tested only a few chemicals in the most recent studies, so OSHA still prohibits contact lenses in work areas using ethylene oxide, methylene chloride, and several other chemicals.
Simple additions like sunglasses, safety glasses, and saline eye drops help to keep the eyes safe. Anyone with dry or irritated eyes should avoid the use of contact lenses until the discomfort passes. At Harry W. Chan, OD, we can offer practical advice for people working in hazardous sites or that spend a lot of time outside. Contact us to learn more.