It can be so easy to lie down in bed and turn out the lights only to realize you’re still wearing your contact lenses. But you leave them in because you’re too tired or lazy to get up and take them out for the night. And when it comes to swimming, you probably know very well that you're not supposed to do it with your contacts in — but maybe you dive in anyway.

If either of these scenarios sound familiar, you’re not alone —  and you may think nothing of them for that reason. Chances are you have friends or family who do these things, too. But here are some facts that should open your eyes to the risks.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 40 to 90 percent of the more than 30 million lens wearers in the United States don’t use proper care with their contacts, which is increasing their risk of an eye infection. People go to about about 1 million doctor visits for eye infections a year, finds a CDC report, with contacts being the main culprit. Researchers found that women were slightly more likely to be affected than men, but overall the condition was even among age groups. In severe cases, these infections can lead to blindness. 

The problems stem not just from wearing contacts but from using them wrong. Wearing lenses for too long, cleaning them improperly, and environmental factors like smoke, dust and dirt all contribute to infections.

If you care for your contacts correctly, though, they are among the safest forms of vision correction. Here are five ways you can reduce your risk of eye infections and protect your vision.

1. Practice good hygiene. Before you insert your contacts, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water and dry them with a lint-free towel to get rid of any residue on your hands.

2. Use contact solution only to sterilize your lens. Do not use water or spit. Use solutions recommended by your doctor and practice the rub and rinse method, in which you rub lenses with your fingers and then rinse with solution before soaking.

3. Remove your contacts before bed. Unless your contacts are made for wearing while sleeping, always take them out at night. This is the time for your eyes to breathe. If you regularly sleep in your lenses, you may see long-term consequences, such as a misshaped cornea (from hard contact lenses), corneal ulcers and increased risk of infection. 

4. Replace your lenses when you're supposed to. This will vary depending on your lenses. Some are 24-hour lenses that can be worn once and discarded, whereas others can be worn for two weeks if they are taken out each night and cared for properly. Don’t push it by hanging onto your lenses for longer, and be sure to have plenty of replacement pairs on hand so you're not tempted to use a pair for longer than you should.

5. Don't “top off” solution in lens cases. Always start with fresh solution. You should clean the case after each use, dry it thoroughly and store it upside down. Replace your case every three to six months.

contact lenses 

Sydney is a self-proclaimed social media addict and a recent grad of the University of Georgia with a B.A. in Journalism. She spent two summers in New York interning with Cosmopolitan.com and iVillage, where one of her articles garnered the most traffic on the site. In her free time, when she’s not pinning DIY projects or fostering golden retrievers, she looks forward to Christmas so she can add to her 25 days of baking blog. Her favorite safety tip: Don’t text and drive — no text is worth it!