Are contact lens fluids safe for the environment and personal health?

Are contact lens fluids safe for the environment and personal health?

—M. Luh, Storrs, CT

According to the Contact Lens Council, approximately 34 million Americans now wear contact lenses. Most people use various saline and disinfectant solutions for their lenses from big-name companies like Bausch & Lomb and Johnson & Johnson. These products are usually packaged in squeeze bottles that, according to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, are required to have preservatives.

But many preservatives can cause irritation and discomfort to the user. For example, thimerasol, a preservative commonly used in contact lens disinfectant solutions in the past, was found to be the culprit in severe allergies. One particularly harmful by-product of thimerasol, once it degrades or metabolizes, is ethyl mercury, which researchers now believe plays a role in the development of autism and a number of health problems.

Other preservatives like benzalkonium chloride have now replaced thimerasol in contact lens solutions. However, according to the Switzerland-based Perret Opticiens, there is still the possibility of such allergic reactions as redness, itching and discharge with the new generation of preservatives being used in conventional solutions.

There are other options. Clear Conscience now makes a line of contact lens solutions that are reportedly gentler for the environment and the wearer. Unlike conventional products, the company’s saline solution is dispensed by a safe nitrogen propellant, which means it contains no preservatives. Clear Conscience also offers an FDA-approved Multi-Purpose Solution that is benzalkonium chloride- and thimerasol-free. It can be used to disinfect, clean and store hard or soft contacts. WholeFoods Markets and other large natural goods stores stock Clear Conscience products, or they can be ordered online at the company’s website.

Meanwhile, Alcon, one of the largest providers of traditional lens solutions, has diversified its product line to include two preservative-free products, Unisol 4 and Pliagel, both which are available online at drugstore.com as well as at other large health products retailers.

CONTACTS: Contact Lens Council, (800) 884-4CLC, http://www.contactlenscouncil.org; Clear Conscience, (800) 595-9592, http://www.clearconscience.com ; Perret Opticiens, http://www.perret-optic.ch/index_gb.htm ; Alcon Labs, (800) 757-9195, http://www.alconlabs.com; http://drugstore.com.