Contacts and exercise?

Originally Published: October 1, 1994 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: April 15, 2014
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Alice,

I exercise daily - biking usually - and always wear my contacts. When I get home and look in the mirror my eyes are always beet red. Am I doing any damage to my eyes by wearing contacts while exercising?

Going Blind?

Dear Going Blind,

I spy with my little eye a case of the "dry eyes"!  Riding your bike can definitely induce dry, irritated eyes, whether you're cruising down the boardwalk or racing in the Tour de France. Wind, heat, dust, air conditioning, cigarette smoke, and even hair dryers can make eyes dry. The fact that you wear contacts probably exasperates your dry eye. Contacts dry out easily and can absorb tears in the eyes, making it easier for eyes to dry out.   

The good news is that most people who have dry eyes experience mild irritation with no long-term effects. However, if the condition is left untreated or becomes severe, dry eyes can cause eye inflammation, corneal infection, scarring, and potential vision loss. If your vision becomes blurry or you experience eye pain, sensitivity to light, flaking, or discharge, it is advisable to take out your contact lenses and speak with your health care provider.

It may be helpful to wear goggles or sunglasses to protect your eyes while riding. Using lubricating eye drops made for contacts can help treat redness or discomfort. Some people benefit by avoiding dusty, smoky areas, and using a humidifier to moisten the surrounding air. Now that sounds refreshing! The decision to wear contact lenses may seem crystal clear, but before you take the plunge, here is a little lowdown on lenses. Contacts are less cumbersome than glasses, particularly if you're moving around a lot. There are multiple types of contacts for different lifestyles, too. Soft contact lenses conform to the shape of your eye. These thin, gel-like lenses are comfortable and tend to stay in place well, so they're a good choice if you lead an active lifestyle. Hard contacts are more durable and easy to care for, but take a bit more time to get used to.

While contact lenses can be liberating, it is important to consider the responsibility that comes with them. First and foremost, diligence is the key to healthy and happy eyes. Practicing good hygiene by cleaning your contacts daily can help you avoid dry eyes, irritation, and heightened risk of eye infection. Taking your contacts out at night, replacing your contacts when it is recommended, and following tips from your health care provider can also help keep you in the clear.  

To learn more about eye care, Columbia students can make an appointment Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC). So if your eyes are feeling as dry and red as a desert, don't worry – an oasis is in sight! 

Alice