Stuck contact lenses happen with regularity, but before retrieving them, it is important to start by properly washing your hands. (Learn More) The proper procedure to remove a trapped lens depends on where exactly on the surface of the eye it is stuck. (Learn More)

Safely removing a stuck contact lens can be a time-consuming and frustrating task, so it is important to blink regularly (to lubricate both the lens and the eye) and to be patient. (Learn More) In most cases, properly removing a stuck contact lens can take about 15 minutes with minimal discomfort. If there is persistent discomfort, call a doctor for help. (Learn More)

Almost everyone who uses contact lenses will inevitably get a lens stuck in their eye. It is simply a natural risk of using them. As annoying as the experience is, it is not dangerous to the eye, and the lens itself can be easily retrieved.

Clean Hands Before Removing Contacts

person washing hands

In most cases, the kind of contact lens that gets stuck in the eye is a soft lens. Before trying to remove it, wash your hands properly. In fact, Mayo Clinic specifically mentions methodically washing your hands before you insert or remove your contact lenses.

Before you attempt to safely retrieve your stuck contact lens:

  • Wet your hands with running water. Either hot or cold water is fine.
  • Use liquid, powder, or bar soap.
  • Work up a good lather.
  • Rub your hands together for 20 seconds. Make sure you get your fingertips, your fingernails, the spaces between your fingers, and the backs of your hands and fingers.
  • Rinse thoroughly.
  • Make sure your hands are completely dry.

If you don’t have access to soap and water, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Make sure the sanitizer contains at least 60 percent alcohol. When you use it, apply enough of it so your hands become completely wet, and then vigorously rub your hands together until they are dry.

Once your hands are sufficiently clean, turn your attention to getting your stuck contact lens.

Where Is the Stuck Lens?

To begin, find the exact location of the contact lens in your eye. If, for example, the lens is fully centered on the cornea (the clear, protective outer layer of the eye), the lens has probably already dried out. People who fall asleep while wearing their contacts will be familiar with this.

If this happens, use a steady stream of sterile saline, multipurpose contact lens solution, or contact lens rewetting drops to irrigate the stuck contact and your eye for a few seconds. Once done, close your eye and carefully massage your upper eyelid until you can feel the lens start to move. The movement will be very noticeable, so you will know if you are on the right track.

In the event that the lens remains stuck, rinse several more times. Try to frequently blink after each rinse, to make the lens move. The goal is to rehydrate the lens, so it becomes moveable. This could take as long as 10 minutes of rinsing, blinking, and massaging.

When the lens starts to easily move, it can be removed like normal.

If the Lens Is Stuck Off Center

If the contact lens is stuck off the center of the eye, you should move your eye in the opposite direction of where it feels like the lens is stuck. If it feels like the lens is stuck under your upper eyelid, for example, then look down. If the lens is stuck in the left corner of your eye, look all the way to the right.

Then, lightly massage your eyelid and blink frequently. This will move the lens to the center of the eye, where it can be removed. You might have to rinse your eye with rewetting drops, multipurpose solution, or sterile saline to lubricate the lens to get it to move.

If this doesn’t work, you can try to put a new contact lens on the eye and blink as you normally would. This can pull the stuck contact lens back to the center of the eye, where you can easily take it out.

Gas Permeable Contact Lenses and Suction Cups

Gas permeable contact lenses can also get stuck in the eye. If this happens to you, the way to remove it is different. Do not massage the eye because doing so might cause the harder gas permeable lens to scratch the surface of the eye.

If the lens is stuck on the sclera (the white of the eye), you can use the flat part of your fingertip to softly press the eye, just past the edge of the lens. This will break the suction that is keeping the lens stuck in the eye.

Similarly, you can use a small suction cup, which is sold in the eye care section of drugstores. The cup has a concave end, which you press onto the center of the stuck lens. The lens adheres to the cup, and you can delicately pull the lens free.

It might be the case that no matter what you try, the contact lens remains stuck. If this happens, call a doctor immediately.

Blinking and Patience

Something to keep in mind when trying to safely remove a lost contact lens is to keep blinking. Every blink moisturizes the eye and the inner surface of the eyelid, increasing the chance of the lens becoming dislodged for retrieval. Even if the lens needs a little help being removed, the lubrication will assist with the process and ensure that your eye and the contact lens itself are not damaged.

It might also take a while for the lens to be removed, so take care not to be frustrated or worried. Depending on the location of the lens and the condition of the eye, it could take 15 minutes of moisturizing, blinking, and massaging until the lens is in a place where it can be removed.man using eyedrop

When to Call a Doctor

You might feel that your eyes remain dry or irritated even after taking out the stuck contact lens. If this is the case, you can use sterile saline or artificial tears to lubricate the eye. Your eyes might still feel a little strange, but this is normal.

If this does not help, or if you feel pain in your eyes or experience a change in your vision, call a doctor immediately and describe what happened. Continued discomfort might be a sign of a problem that occurred, such as corneal abrasion, which would require medical assistance.

Again, it is important not to panic. Stuck contact lenses are very common, and eye trauma via stuck contact lens is extremely rare. It is very unlikely that a stuck contact lens will do serious damage. Take your time and be methodical, and you will have that lens out.

References

Handwashing: Do’s and Don’ts. (July 2018). Mayo Clinic.

Why Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizers Are Still Your Best Bet for Avoiding Germs. (June 2019). Washington Post.

Common Cornea Problems. (December 2017). WebMD.

What Does Sleeping in Contact Lenses Do to Your Eyes? (November 2017). Cleveland Clinic.

Contact Lenses: What To Know Before You Buy. (March 2019). Mayo Clinic.

I Think I Got a Contact Stuck in My Eye–Now What? (January 2018). Health.

How to Remove Contacts With Miniature Suction Cups. (April 2017). Healthfully.

Why We Blink Our Eyes. (November 2018). Verywell Mind.

Sterile Eye Drops 0.05%. WebMD.

What Is Corneal Abrasion? (December 2017). WebMD.