They can stick to your eye, fold up like tacos and disappear under your eyelid, slip, slide, and slosh.
But honestly, they shouldn’t. If this describes your contact lenses, something is wrong. Contact lenses should float on your eyeball and slide–a little bit–with every blink, but generally they should stay in sync with your eyeball. You should be able to see them and to take them out easily.
If you can’t, first off, don’t put in another one. As detailed in a recent BMJ article, a woman in Britain had to have cataract surgery delayed when doctors found 27 contact lenses in her eye, a buildup that’s not just shocking but also increased her odds of a bacterial infection. Here’s what to do instead.
If you can see your contact but it won’t budge, it may have dried out and lost its elasticity, often because you slept or napped with your lenses in or haven’t been taking the best care of them. “You have a little gap where the eyes don’t close all the way, and a little bit of air comes in,” explains Kim Le, MD, a pediatric ophthalmologist with the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. That air dries out contact lenses and saps them of their elasticity, which can leave a contact stuck directly to your eyeball, she says. But even if your contact is moistened, if it doesn’t fit right–like if it’s too tight–it might be difficult to pull off, she adds.
So how should you remove a contact lens stuck in your eye? Don’t try to pry the lens off, which could scratch your cornea. Instead, wet your eye until the contact is easier to remove. “Use some rewetting drops or artificial tears that are made for contact lens wearers to try to float the lens and lubricate the eye so you can remove it safely and comfortably,” says Thomas Steinemann, MD, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
If this doesn’t work, see an eye care professional. You’ll need to see one anyway about getting new lenses that fit better–which, by the way, you will promise not to sleep in.
But what if your contact lens simply vanishes? You should be able to tell if a contact is still in there by looking at the area of your eye where the dark and the white parts come together, advises Dr. Le. If you still don’t see it, flip your upper eyelid to see if it’s hiding up there, then try saline drops to flush it out. (Your contact can’t actually get “lost” behind your eye because of the structure of your eye and eyelid, so keep looking and rinsing. If you really can’t find a contact lens or can’t get it out, call your eye doctor.)
Usually, you and your eyes will be fine–but not always. “Contact lens-related problems are rare, but they [can be] devastating,” says Rajiv Shah, MD, assistant professor of ophthalmology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Case in point: A woman who had a habit of sleeping in her contact lenses ended up developing a corneal ulcer and had to cancel her honeymoon, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Fortunately, she kept her vision, but every year, up to one out of every 500 people who wear contact lenses gets an eye infection that puts them at risk of becoming blind, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Missing or stuck contacts–and eye infections–can be prevented with a bit more TLC. “A lot of people who wear soft lenses wear them with kind of a callous disregard for hygiene or care of the lens,” says Dr. Steinemann. Even if your contact is super-comfortable, it can’t take care of itself. Soft lenses–worn by more than 90% of people who use contacts–require a daily routine. Never keep your contact lenses in your eyes overnight. “If you over-wear the lens and don’t remove it, there’s a higher chance of buildup on the lens,” says Dr. Steinemann. Proteins from tears can stick to the lens, irritating the eye or causing the lens to slip and slide, he says.
“The cornea is the windshield of the eye,” adds Dr. Shah. “If you don’t pop out the lens, [the cornea] doesn’t have an opportunity to breathe.”
Take out your contacts at bedtime, and make sure to clean them properly: Put them in the palm of your hand with a little multipurpose contact lens solution and rub. “Rubbing the lens is a good thing,” says Dr. Steinemann. “You’re taking the grime off the surface.”
Then fill your lens case up with fresh solution, and let your contacts rest while you do. In the morning, take them out of the case, rinse them with disinfecting contact lens solution, and pop them in your eyes.
Don’t forget to take care of the contact lens case too. “The case is a reservoir for germs and infection,” adds Dr. Steinemann.
Every morning, dump out the old contact lens solution, rinse out the case, and leave it open to air dry for the rest of the day. Replace the case regularly, around every time you buy new contact lens cleaner–the new bottle usually comes with a case anyway.
While getting a contact stuck in your eye is no one’s idea of fun, at least you can protect yourself. “It really comes down to safe habits,” says Dr. Shah.