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November 2009

Ask the Doctor

How can I practice proper eye hygiene?

Manuel B. Datiles III, M.D.
Manuel Datiles, M.D. Medical Officer
Sr. Clinical Investigator
National Eye Institute

NEI ophthalmologist Dr. Manuel Datiles tells people to follow one important rule: "Make sure anything that touches your eyes is clean."

Eyes have built-in protection in the form of lids and lashes. Even tears contain molecules called antibodies, which fight infection. With all these defenses, according to Dr. Datiles, eyes are "pretty hardy organs."

"Make sure anything that touches your eyes is clean," Dr. Datiles says.

However, hands and fingers can transport dirt and infection, so wash your hands before rubbing your eyes. Or, even better, use a clean tissue or handkerchief to wipe them instead.

Dr. Datiles also recommends four additional tips for keeping your eyes both clean and healthy:

  1. Care for your contact lenses. To avoid eye infections, wash your hands before inserting or removing lenses. Also, place a clean towel or tissue below your face to catch the lenses in case you drop them. After taking them out of your eyes, store your contacts in a disinfectant solution. Don't dilute the solution because only full-strength solution can kill bacteria.
  2. Wear sunglasses. If you don't normally wear glasses, you can put on sunglasses to keep dust, dirt or other objects away from your eyes when outdoors. Appropriate sunglasses will also protect everyone's eyes from harmful ultraviolet rays.
  3. Avoid rubbing your eyes if they itch. Rubbing your eyes can often make them more itchy and painful. Instead, keep blinking and allow your tears to dislodge and wash away any irritants. You could also wash your hands, wash out your eyes with clean tap water or sterile eye irrigating solution, and wipe your eyes gently with a clean towel or tissue.
  4. Apply eye makeup carefully, and don't over-do it. Many people get tiny objects in their eyes or develop allergies when putting on or wearing makeup.

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Department of Health and Human Services NIH, the National Institutes of Health