Catch a cold or flu? Reduce contact lens wear

When you feel a cold or the flu coming on, here’s a tip to reduce eye redness and eye irritation: “Take out your contact lenses or reduce your lens-wear time,” says University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) professor of optometry William Benjamin, O.D., Ph.D.

If you have extended-wear lenses, opt for daily contact lenses when you start feeling cold and flu-like symptoms, and still remove them earlier in the evening to minimize redness and irritation, Benjamin says.

Why are contacts impacted by colds and flu? Benjamin says such infections can temporarily change outer-eye fluids, often making the tear film thinner and the eye’s surface drier.

“Colds and flu create symptoms of dry eyes or irritation with or without lens wear, and contacts may aggravate the symptoms, especially soft lenses which will lose more of their water than normal and may not rehydrate fast enough,” Benjamin says.

Antihistamines often taken for colds and flu further dehydrate eyes and lead to scratchiness or lens irritation. And the dry heat of most homes and buildings in the winter, another contributor to dry eyes, further reinforce his advice that less contact wear is best during periods of sickness. The eye’s cornea may catch a viral infection, too, if conditions are right and lens wearers act carelessly.

Pay attention to your eyes during seasonal changes, Benjamin recommends. “You can sometimes tell you’re about to come down with a cold or the flu when your eye-redness and end-of-the-day eye irritation are more than usual. Then you’ll know to start taking your contacts out earlier in the evening – ultimately leaving them out all day when a cold or flu strikes. Keep a spare pair of glasses handy just in case, so you’re not totally dependent on your contacts,” he says.

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