People who have conjunctivitis or pink eye should not wear contact lenses. They should also replace old contact lenses to avoid reinfection.

Conjunctivitis is inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the tissue surrounding the cornea or eyeball. It can happen for many reasons, but viral and bacterial infections are the most common. Irritation from contact lenses can also cause or worsen conjunctivitis.

Contact lenses can irritate the eyes when a person has conjunctivitis. They can also spread the infection or reinfect the eye, especially if a person has bacterial or viral conjunctivitis.

Additionally, contact lens wearers are vulnerable to other eye infections they may initially confuse with conjunctivitis. Keeping contact lenses in can worsen the infection.

This article explains whether a person can wear contact lenses with conjunctivitis alongside treatment and prevention.

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It is not safe to wear contact lenses with conjunctivitis. There are several reasons for this.

  • As inserting contact lenses requires touching the eyes, the infection can spread.
  • Contact lenses sometimes cause conjunctivitis.
  • Contact lenses may further irritate the eyes, causing more pain and delaying healing.

If a person has mild conjunctivitis, or their conjunctivitis has almost healed and there is a compelling reason, they may be able to wear contacts for a short period. However, avoiding contact is always the safest option.

Most guides recommend avoiding contact lenses until a doctor says they are safe or until the eyes are completely clear.

What is conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is irritation and inflammation of the conjunctival tissue, or conjunctiva. The conjunctiva surrounds the eyeball. Inflammation of the eyeball can cause eye pain, swelling, or redness.

Viral conjunctivitis, often after another viral infection, is the most common form. When this occurs, a person may develop conjunctivitis after being sick. This form goes away on its own.

A person can also develop bacterial conjunctivitis, requiring antibiotic treatment.

Allergic reactions and irritation, including from contacts, can also cause conjunctivitis.

Conjunctivitis is not usually dangerous, but if a person cannot see or their symptoms do not improve within a few days, they should visit a doctor.

Learn more about conjunctivitis.

The main symptom of conjunctivitis is having pink or red eyes. The eyelids may swell or droop, making the eye look swollen, and the eyes may hurt. A person may also have symptoms of a viral illness, such as a sore throat or runny nose.

A person who cannot see may need emergency treatment. This could signal a severe eye infection or a problem other than conjunctivitis.

Learn more about viral or bacterial conjunctivitis.

The safest option for conjunctivitis is to avoid contact lenses until all symptoms clear. If a person must wear contact lenses, they should:

  • wear them for the shortest possible length of time
  • wash their hands before and after inserting them
  • avoid sharing contact lens supplies with anyone else
  • replace the contact lenses after the infection has cleared, especially if they have bacterial or viral conjunctivitis

People with allergies may find contact lenses make their allergies worse by making it easier for allergens to enter the eye. They may also develop an allergy to the lenses themselves.

Conjunctivitis can be an allergic reaction, and the symptoms of lens allergies do not always disappear immediately after a person removes the lenses. Thus, it can be difficult to distinguish one condition from the other, and a person cannot conclusively self-diagnose their symptoms.

This is also a reason to stop using contacts until symptoms improve. If they recur with fresh lenses, a person may have an allergy.

Treatment for conjunctivitis depends on the cause. Viral conjunctivitis, the most common form, usually clears on its own. Bacterial conjunctivitis can also clear on its own, though antibiotics can expedite the process and may prevent more serious infections.

Allergic conjunctivitis may also clear if someone removes the allergen or if allergy season ends. However, a person may need treatment if their symptoms are severe.

If conjunctivitis is very severe, a person cannot see, or symptoms do not improve after a few days, it is important to see a doctor.

Learn more about home remedies for conjunctivitis.

A person can reduce their risk of conjunctivitis by:

  • throwing away old or expired eye products
  • not sharing eye products, such as mascara
  • washing hands before and after touching the eyes
  • washing hands when around anyone who has been sick
  • keeping contacts clean and only using them for the recommended period
  • avoiding allergens

Wearing contacts can spread a bacterial conjunctivitis infection from one eye to the other and may also prolong the infection. It can further irritate the eye and be painful. A person who insists on wearing disposable lenses should replace them after the infection clears.

For this reason, it is wise to avoid contacts and switch to glasses. If symptoms persist, a person should see a doctor for treatment and to rule out other causes.