DRHOOK- Socket wrench: Contacts great, but can cause trouble

the handsome doctor John Hong

The Acropolis is one of the most amazing places I've been. As a college student, I went to Greece on a three-week Classics Studies Tour in 1987, and Athens was hot and polluted even back then. Sweat made my glasses slide off my little Asian nose like toddlers down a water park ride. 

I didn't know I had bad vision until my ninth-grade health class when I volunteered to read the vision chart. The teacher asked me to start with the top letter, and I replied, "What letter?" I couldn't even see the big E. It was fuzzier than the close-ups of Cybill Shepherd in Moonlighting. 

Our professor talked about the straight architectural lines of the famous Acropolis, but it looked like a big curve to me– as if I were seeing it in a fish bowl. It was at that moment that I wanted to wear contact lenses, so I could see the world straight (so to speak). 

When do we become blind-sided by contact lenses?

Millions of people throw off their glasses to wear contact lenses. (So Superman, don't you think?) Contacts help me see things better without the distortion of glasses. Everything from playing sports to wearing trendy sunglasses is easier with contact lenses. However, nothing is perfect, and wearing contacts is no exception.

Some people are afraid to put anything in their eyes, and there's a reason. Can you imagine Patti LaBelle with those long fingernails putting on contacts? Ouch! If there is dust or some foreign body underneath the lens, it can slowly tear apart the cornea with each blink of the eye. 

The cornea needs oxygen, so wearing the contact lens while asleep might suffocate it. This can cause blurry vision, eye pain in bright surroundings, and eye redness. I don't have extended-wear contacts, so if I accidentally fall asleep with mine in, I get "tight lens syndrome," which means the lens gets stuck to my cornea like a Band-Aid. 

"I am stuck on my contact lens ‘cause my lens is stuck on me." 

Contact lenses need to float on a layer of tears, so dry eyes (or if the lens isn't fitted properly) are other ways they can get stuck. I use artificial tears like Niagara Falls until I can finally unpeel the lens from my eyeball. 

Eye infections occur every year in .04 percent of daily soft-wear lens users and in 0.1 percent of extended-wear soft-lens users. Anything from fungus to parasites can infect the eye, usually from poor lens hygiene. I've seen it in the Olympics. Some gymnast took her contact lens out without washing her hands, and then wet her lens in her mouth. Why didn't she just get someone to spit in her eye? 

Not keeping the contact lens kit clean can result in making your eye look like you just went on a bender: red and puffy. 

Eye pain as well as impaired vision is usually what drives a patient to the doctor's office. If the infection causes a perforation in the cornea, surgery might be needed. Scarring the cornea can cause permanent eye damage, so leaving the contact lens out to allow the eye to heal is a good idea.

Patching the eye isn't recommended because it doesn't really help with the pain, and it doesn't help the microorganisms die. Antibiotics help kill those bad boys, and ophthalmologists have other drops that can reduce pain and inflammation. So it is vital to see the doctor as soon as possible to prevent visual damage or even blindness. 

I'm thankful for my contact lenses. They have given me a new view of life, honestly. Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a contact in my eye.


Dr. Hook cracks a joke or two, but he's a renowned physician with an interesting website, drjohnhong.com. Email him with your questions.