While contact lenses have become a popular alternative for 680,000 Australians with vision problems, a Sydney woman is warning others who wear lenses not to become too reliant on them after she nearly crashed her car when one of her own popped out of her eye and left her temporarily blind. Anna Chan was driving along the city’s King George Road six years ago when her eyes became increasingly dry – before one of her lenses popped out completely without warning.
Speaking to Starts at 60, Anna explained that she’d been wearing lenses full-time for more than 10 years at the time of the incident and while she took care of them and avoided eye infections in any way she could, she did wear them for long periods of time. She said this is what caused her eyes to become dry.
“My main issue was my eyes started to dry out a bit,” she said. “As you work for longer hours and you have social events, there were days where they’d go in at 7am and wouldn’t come back out until 11pm, which is 16 hours of wear. I was so reliant on them and I just didn’t like wearing glasses.”
Anna said that she initially decided to wear contact lenses because she found it difficult to find glasses that fit her face correctly. Describing her features as “petite”, Anna feared her only option would be children’s glasses and admitted she initially chose contact lenses for cosmetic reasons. Equally, she said that when she did wear glasses, she couldn’t get used to them and found that the frames of the glasses would restrict her vision – particularly when driving.
“I felt the frame would cut my peripheral vision a bit,” she said. “I just didn’t feel comfortable with it. Some people I know get used to it and people who don’t wear contact lenses don’t have an issue, but it’s something I couldn’t get used to.”
Her eyes had become increasingly dry the more she wore her lenses and around the time of the incident, her optometrist had been trialling her on different ones to reduce the irritability. When people wear contact lenses, it’s not uncommon for their eyes to dry out because the cornea of the eye requires oxygen from the environment and lenses can reduce this supply.
Dryness can also impact the tear films in the eyes and can increase mucus production, the risk of infection and impact vision. Anna’s optometrist switched her from two-weekly lenses to daily lenses to try and reduce the dryness, but it didn’t help on the day of the near-accident. She recalled her eye feeling extremely dry but that there wasn’t much she could do because she was behind the wheel and stuck on a busy road.
“I was feeling that it was quite dry but when you’re driving, you can’t put drops in,” she said. “Even though it only affects your vision for a split second, you don’t have time when you’re driving and you can’t afford for the vision to be slightly distorted by eye drops.”
Instead, Anna said she started blinking to try and keep the eye moist but in doing so, the right lens popped out and made it difficult for her to see the road at all. She explained that she is almost legally blind without glasses or contact lenses, so much so that she can’t even see the biggest letter on the chart when visiting the optometrist.
To make matters worse, Anna was in the right hand lane of the road at the time but needed to pull over to her left and drive into the nearest side street to sort her situation out.
“I realised if I kept both eyes open the image was doubled because I had one clear eye and one really blurry eye,” she recalled. “I ended up having to use my hand to cover part of the vision on the eye that didn’t have the contact lens and slowly change lanes. Luckily, I didn’t hit anything or anyone.”
Eventually, Anna was able to pull over safely, use some eye drops and insert a new contact lens in her eye. She also explained that she’s since started carrying around glasses in case another incident occurs and warned others that they need to ensure that their prescription glasses are always up to date.
“Even though you wear contact lenses, it’s good to keep your glasses’ prescription updated for situations like this,” Anna said. “If you have an eye infection, they tell you not to wear contacts for one or two weeks and if you don’t have glasses you can see through, you’d become non-functioning.”
It’s always important to speak regularly with your optometrist about the best hygiene practices when it comes to wearing contact lenses, the best ways to reduce dry eye and whether lenses or glasses are the best option for you.
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