Contact Lens Wear in Industrial, Chemical and Mechanical Work Environments
For your patients wearing contact lenses at work, it is important to ensure they are aware of the potential hazards to their eyes and how to avoid them. This is particularly important for new contact lens patients or patients starting a new job. The previous post reviewed best practices for circumventing Computer Vision Syndrome or digital eye strain. Today’s post focuses on the eye health and safety for patients wearing contact lenses in industrial, chemical, or mechanical environments.
Depending on your patient’s occupation, they may be exposed to a variety of chemicals or projectiles that can injure the eye, as well as, affect comfort and vision while wearing contact lenses.1 Most workplaces have certain safety guidelines in place for employees wearing contact lenses at work. These guidelines are found in the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) binder. The MSDS lists the hazards employees may encounter, safety guidelines, and emergency protocol. Depending on the patient’s profession, personal protective equipment (PPE) such as safety goggles or face masks may be required, regardless of contact lens wear. It is critical to remind your patient that wearing spectacles or contact lenses at work does not replace the use of protective eye wear.2
The list below3 includes just a handful of occupations to consider:
- Construction Worker
I recommend asking open-ended questions about the patient’s daily work routine to better understand potential risks. It may also be helpful to search online for the potential ocular hazards that are specific to your contact lens patient’s job. For example, carpenters and construction workers may be at a higher risk of encountering projectiles like flying wood chips, metal or glass. Contact lens wearers should take extra caution as particles may stick to or become trapped behind the contact lens and held against the cornea. On the other hand, patients working in a laboratory may be to exposed chemical splashes and airborne hazards such as noxious gases and chemical vapors. Studies suggest that water-soluble chemical substances may absorb or bind to soft contact lens materials, causing prolonged chemical exposure. Prolonged chemical exposure may initially be asymptomatic but can result in epithelial desiccation, conjunctivitis and chronic contact lens discomfort.4
Though there are still some work environments that prohibit wearing contact lenses at work, many patients can successfully do so by following appropriate guidelines. Make sure to tell your patient to review and follow all of the health and safety protocol guidelines with their employer before wearing contact lenses at work.
Joanna Chmiel, LDO, ABOC, NCLEC
Joanna is a board certified licensed optician and customer service representative at SpecialEyes. She is currently pursuing her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri. She has been with SpecialEyes since 2011 and brings 10 years of experience within the optical industry.
1 American Optometric Association. (1998, May). Guidelines for The Use of Contact Lenses In Industrial Environments. http://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/caring-for-your-vision/protecting-your-vision/guidelines-for-the-use-of-contact-lenses-in-industrial-environments?sso=y
2 American Optometric Association. (n.d.). Protecting Your Eyes at Work. http://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/caring-for-your-vision/protecting-your-vision?sso=y
3 Anthony P. Cullen, O. P. (2007, January 23). Contact Lens Wear on the Job. Review of Optometry.
4 NISHO. (2005, June). Current Intelligence Bulletin 59: Contact Lens Use in a Chemical Environment. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2005-139/pdfs/2005-139.pdf