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How to Tell if a Contact Lens Is Still in Your Eye

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How to Tell if a Contact Lens Is Still in Your Eye

A woman using her left index finger to pull her eyelid down while she puts a contact lens on her right eye with her right hand.

Many Canadians wear contacts as an alternative to eyeglasses or laser eye surgery. Contacts can offer comfort and convenience while you’re moving through your daily tasks. You could even forget you’re wearing them—until suddenly something changes. Maybe they fell out, or worse, maybe they got stuck.

You may panic, rub your eye, try to blink the lens out, and have visions of eye surgery. But wait—it doesn’t have to go that far! This happens more than you may think. Even clear contact lenses have a slight tint, so you can use a mirror to tell if it’s still in your eye. And if it’s stuck, you may be able to remove it safely.

Finding the Contact Lens

First, the good news. A contact lens can’t slip behind your eye. The eye is structured in such a way that there is a barrier between the front and back of the eye created by the conjunctiva. The lens can only move around in the space between the front of your eye and your eyelid.

The first productive step you can take is to avoid panicking. Take some deep breaths, and you can tackle the task ahead once you’re calm.

If you lose track of your lens, it’s often due to the lens either drying out or moving after you rub your eye. It may have been released from your cornea, the clear dome at the front of the eye, and fallen out. Before you go searching around your eye, check your clothes, nearby tables, and the floor.

Checking Your Eyes

It’s possible you won’t feel as if your contact lens has moved out of place. Still, irritation, redness, or the feeling of something being stuck in your eye are common indicators that your contact lens is stuck in your eye.

Assuming you can’t find the contact lens outside your eye, you can start looking for it on your eye by checking a mirror under bright lights. Contact lenses have a slight tint, so you may be able to see the edges of them near your iris when they move off the centre of your eye.

If you notice that the lens has folded over slightly, you may be able to fix it by blinking repeatedly or washing your hands and gently rubbing your upper eyelid.

If you still can’t see the lens, wash your hands and gently pull on your lower eyelid and then your upper eyelid. Your contact lens can get folded and tucked into these areas. For a particularly illusive lens, you may need to ask someone for help and look in the opposite direction of where you think the lens is, so your helper can spot it.

How to Remove a Contact Lens Stuck in Your Eye

Sometimes all it takes is a few blinks to move the contact lens back to where it should be. While that can be great, it doesn’t always work. 

You must wash your hands before you do anything that requires touching your eye. We handle many things during the day, and transferring that bacteria to your eyes can increase your risk of infections.

The method for removing a stuck contact lens can depend on the type of lens you’re wearing. However, you can start by attempting to flush the lens out. Moisten your eye with artificial tears to help loosen the lens. This can be especially effective if your lens is stuck because it dried out. Don’t ever use tap water, however, as it’s not sterile and can harbour bacteria.

Removing Soft Contact Lenses

Soft contacts are typically made of a plastic hydrogel, making them generally comfortable. However, this also means they can dry out and get stuck in the centre of your eye, in which case you may need to use moisturizing drops to hydrate them once again.

As mentioned, ensure you work with clean fingers by washing your hands with soap and water. Once you find the lens, you can gently nudge it out of your eye and dispose of it. If the lens is stuck under your eyelid, you can try to massage your eyelid to work the lens free, but be sure to use gentle pressure at all times.

Removing Rigid Gas-Permeable (RGP) Lenses

As their name would suggest, rigid gas-permeable (RGP) lenses are firmer than soft contacts. When they get stuck, the process for removing them is different from the process for removing soft contact lenses.

You need to avoid sliding the lens across your eye, as it could scratch your cornea. Instead, gently press your clean fingertip against the lens’ edge to break the suction. You could also use a lens applicator, which is a small suction cup-like device, to pull the lens off your eye’s surface.

Preventing Stuck Lenses

A stuck contact lens may be more frustrating than dangerous, but it’s still best to avoid them. Use these tips to help prevent your contact lenses from getting stuck:

  • Don’t sleep with contacts in
  • Wear contacts according to their wear schedule
  • Avoid rubbing your eyes while wearing contacts
  • Address dry eye symptoms
A man sitting in an optometrist's office and looking into a machine that tests his vision.

When to See an Eye Doctor

If you’ve tried to remove your stuck contact lens for a few hours without success, it’s time to see an eye doctor. Even if you removed the lens, it may have torn, or there may be effects on your eye health that must be addressed. So if you’re experiencing eye pain, irritation, or any discomfort and redness after removing a stuck contact lens, give our team at Calgary Family Eye Doctors a call.

We can offer peace of mind and answer the questions you have about contact lens concerns. And if your contact lenses get stuck to your eye repeatedly, we can examine your eyes and contacts to provide support for avoiding that problem in the future.

Contact lenses should fit well and meet your needs! If your contacts are causing problems, book an appointment and let’s talk about your options.

Written by
Dr. Chelsea Gerlitz

Dr. Gerlitz was born and raised in Calgary, earning her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Alberta. After graduation, Dr. Gerlitz went on to study Optometry at the University of Waterloo. In her final year of study, Dr. Gerlitz interned with ophthalmologists in Florida as part of her Ocular Disease and Therapeutics rotation. This experience inspired Dr. Gerlitz’s passion for managing conditions such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, and dry eye.

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Dr. Chelsea Gerlitz

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