Disinfecting contact lenses is an important maintenance procedure

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Contact Lens Disinfection

Contact lens usage is associated with problems such as coating and deposits on the lenses. During normal wear, dirt, protein particles, lipids, bacteria, filamentous deposits, environmental contamination like oils, smoke, lotions, make up and substances transferred from hands can get on soft contact lenses. All these together, as well as violation of contact lens care protocol, can lead to ocular complications. Problems can include ocular inflammation and allergic reactions like giant papillary conjunctivitis and infection as well as problems of diminished visual quality, irregular surface, poor wetting of lenses, poor fit and decreased oxygen transmission to the cornea.

Proper cleaning and disinfection of contact lenses can remove all lens coatings and deposits. A surfactant cleaner should be used on a daily basis and an enzyme used weekly or bi weekly. Despite approval of no rub cleaning solutions by the U.S. FDA many practitioners believe that manual rubbing of the contact lenses in the palm of the hand is necessary for complete cleansing.

There are usually two ways in which disinfection can be carried out. Thermal disinfection and chemical disinfection are two methods to kill germs causing serious eye infections and other complications like less than optimal performance of lenses. They also protect the eyes from irritation and the cleaning process helps remove substances which shorten the life of the lenses. In thermal disinfection, heat is used to kill the germs while in chemical disinfection only disinfecting chemicals are used in cleaning.

Chemical Disinfection

This process of disinfection is more popularly used than thermal disinfection. However, the doctor will decide whether your lenses will require thermal or chemical disinfection. When the doctor recommends chemical disinfection, the procedure is typically as follows. Cleaning, rinsing, disinfecting and rinsing again. It is imperative that soft contacts be disinfected every time they are taken out and before reinsertion. Both daily and extended wear lenses must be cleaned every night and though the extended wear contacts are in theory not needed to be taken out every night, most doctors recommend that to avoid complications they should be disinfected nightly. With disposable contact lenses, cleaning and disinfecting is not applicable, as they should be used once and then they are taken out and thrown away after the specified time period.

The procedure for cleaning requires different solutions for cleaning, disinfecting and rinsing. A proper case in which to place the lenses for cleaning after removal is required. The case should be free of germs and deposits.

Firstly, hands should be thoroughly washed with soap and water before handling the lenses. While removing the lenses, the handling should be gentle as rough handling may cause lenses to tear. Also corresponding lenses for left and right eye should be noted. It is recommended that the lens for the right eye is removed first. After removal, the lens should be put in the palm of the hand in a position that it curves like a bowl. Now a few drops of the cleaning solution, which is to be used daily should be poured on the upturned lens. Only with one finger the lens should be rubbed back and forth. This will help to dissolve the dirt and oils. After cleaning, the lens can be cradled on the fingertips and rinsed well with a sterile saline rinsing solution. After rinsing, the contact lens case is to be filled with a prescribed disinfecting solution and the corresponding lens is to be put in the corresponding side of the case.

The same steps mentioned must be followed in case of the other lens. It is ideal if the lenses are soaked overnight but if that is not possible then they must be soaked at least for the minimum time as per instructions. Before reinserting the lenses, hands should be washed thoroughly and the lens should be washed again with the sterile solution and then put on. The case should be rinsed with plain water and dried.

Thermal Disinfection

The procedure for thermal disinfection includes cleaning, rinsing, disinfecting with heat and re-rinsing. In this case, a thermal disinfecting unit is required as well as a special contact lens case and a recommended solution which can be used with the heating unit are required. The steps are the same as in chemical disinfection, except that in the last step of disinfection the caps should be screwed on the case and the whole thing is to be put on the heating unit. The unit should be plugged on and switched. Before using the heating unit the instructions should be read. A heating unit usually takes 40 minutes to disinfect the lenses and then cools down. After the whole process, the lenses can be inserted once more. Before this, however, you can rinse the lenses with the sterile saline solution.

Enzyme Cleaning

This is to remove protein deposits and is usually done every week or bi weekly. Noting down the day in which cleaning is to be done will aid in better maintenance. However, certain enzymes are made to be used with thermal disinfection while others are for chemical disinfection, so using the appropriate one is vital. The enzymes are in the form of tablets.

Solutions for Cleaning

There are various solutions available but only certain ones are applicable to certain users as different solutions may irritate and discolor the lenses, so it is always better to use the doctors’ recommended solution.