If you had to put your finger on the leading causes of eye ailments from which millions of American suffer every day, would you need to sleep on it?
If so, please clean your hands and remove your contacts first.
From the 3 million cases of pink eye suffered annually1 to the common styes most of us experience at least once,2 a lot of avoidable eye conditions — such as bacterial, viral or fungal infections — are caused by microorganisms found in dirt or contaminated water getting into our eyes.3
And often, 2 simple hygiene practices will defend against these painful (and occasionally sight threatening) conditions: handwashing and sleep. Yet these activities are so integrated into our daily rituals we tend to turn a blind eye to how we practice them.
Handwashing and vision health
Infections and other eye problems aren’t a sign you’re unclean; they simply indicate some germs snuck in. Germs are opportunistic little buggers, after all.
Take handwashing. We all do it every day, but it helps to pay closer attention to how and when we do it. Many eye infections are contagious and can be contracted after unwittingly touching an object and then rubbing your eye.
Here’s when you should wash up:4
- Before and after preparing food.
- Before and after treating wounds or caring for a sick person.
- Before removing or inserting contact lenses (more on that below).
- After touching an animal or animal waste (including litter boxes).
- After using the bathroom or changing a diaper.
- After blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing.
Here’s how to wash up (tip: don’t think you know everything):5
- Wet your hands with warm or cold running water.
- Apply soap and lather well (note: antibacterial soap is no more affective in killing germs than regular soap, and some bacteria may be resistant to it6).
- Rub your entire hands together, palm to palm, for at least 20 seconds (or 2 recitations of the alphabet). Don’t forget your wrists, backs of your hands, under your fingernails and between the fingers.
- Rinse well and dry with a clean towel. Use a towel to turn off the faucet.
Now you’re ready for bed. Or are you?
Sleep hygiene and vision health
Clean hands are especially important when removing contact lenses and preparing your eyes for sleep. But do you know the amount of sleep you get, and the quality, can also affect how well your eyes work?
For example, if you do not get enough sleep, your eyes might not produce the tears necessary to clean and moisturize themselves, leading to dry eyes. Sleepy eyes may also be susceptible to spasms, or twitching.7
If you have trouble getting a good night’s sleep, try reducing caffeine and avoiding blue light-emitting digital screens for 2 to 3 hours before bed.8 Adjusting the room temperature also can help, as could more activity during the day.
How you prepare for bed will ensure a good night’s sleep as well. Remember these 3 steps:
- Wash your hands.
- If you wear contact lenses, remove them. Sleeping in contacts could deprive the corneas of oxygen, encouraging bacteria to grow.9 Also, when removing contacts, be sure to place them in a clean case with fresh solution. Topped-off solution is no longer sterile.
- Wash your face and remove makeup.10 Makeup can clog the glands around the eyes.11
These small steps may take a few moments, but they will save you a lot of potential discomfort the next day. Think of it as time invested for a better tomorrow.
If you experience any eye discomfort, call your eye doctor and make an appointment. Don’t sleep on it — good hygiene and wellness begin at home, but care should be left to the professionals.