It is not going to roll back into your brain and kill you, promise.
One of the hardest commandments to follow as a contacts-wearer is, “Thou shalt not rub thine eyes.” Anyone who’s vigorously rubbed her peepers while wearing contacts has likely experienced one of the most terrifying situations as retribution: losing a contact in your eye.
“It’s something that can happen for a multitude of reasons,” Andrea Thau, O.D., president-elect of the American Optometric Association and spokesperson for Think About Your Eyes, an awareness campaign that promotes the importance of eye health and an annual eye exam, tells SELF. Wearing lenses that don’t fit can make them dislodge easier, but if you’re getting your lenses refitted every year by your doctor, that shouldn’t be a problem. Accidentally inserting an inside-out contact can also make it move around in your eye, and make you more likely to rub since it’ll feel uncomfortable. Thau also warns against taking off eye makeup before removing your contacts—”all the rubbing can dislodge the lens,” she explains.
Whether you cave every once in a while and rub against your better judgement, or some other fluke causes your lens to suddenly become MIA, here’s how to handle the situation like a pro.
First, stay calm. Your contact lens can’t go very far, and this won’t cause permanent damage.
It might seem like your contact just rolled behind your eye and is now swimming back toward your brain, but it’s not. That’s actually impossible. “There’s a membrane that covers the eye, called the conjunctiva,” Thau explains. “This membrane goes across the white of the eye and up and under the eyelid, creating a pouch all the way around.” This means your contact is trapped somewhere inside that pouch—there’s no way for it to move beyond it.
Next, put a few drops of saline solution in your eye.
“The moisture will help loosen up [the lens] and move it around, which makes it easer to remove,” Thau explains. Don’t flush your eye with tap water though, she warns. “If the eye is irritated, there can be [microscopic tears] and microorganisms can get into your eye,” causing an infection. Use rewetting drops, or just regular old saline solution (never ever squirt a lens solution that contains hydrogen peroxide directly into your eye).
Then, look in the opposite direction of where you think the lens is located and lift your lid.
This can be tricky, because sometimes the lens isn’t where you think you feel it, Thau explains. But do your best to assess where you think it is—it’s more likely to be under your upper lid because there’s more area and the stronger muscle is more likely to pull the lens up. For example, if you think it’s under your upper lid toward the right, lift the lid and look down and toward the left. A flashlight can help, Thau says, because typically contacts have a slight blue tint that can reflect in the light. “When you see it, gently touch it with the tip of your finger and gently drag down and pinch it out.” Never try to grab it out when it’s over the cornea (the clear part of the eye on top of the colored iris), Thau warns. “It will hurt like crazy if you scratch it.” Instead, try to drag it toward the white of the eye before you grab. Keep flushing your eye throughout to help it move easier.
If you can’t find it after a little while, try inverting your eyelid.
This means flipping your eyelid inside out, and it can be difficult to do on your own. “Look down, grab the eyelashes, and pull the lid down and out slightly,” Thau instructs. “Then, push on the crease of the eyelid with a cotton swab and flip the lid up.” It can feel really uncomfortable, so you may want to enlist someone else’s help at this point—just make sure they wash their hands thoroughly before going anywhere near your eyes. Recruiting a fellow contact-wearer is even better.
Your eye should expel the lens eventually, but if you’re still freaking out, call your eye doc.
“If it really gets tucked up there, it can be a bit of a challenge to find,” Thau says, “but usually lubricating drops help and the body wants to get it out.” Your eye will recognize there’s a foreign body in it, and secrete mucous to help push it out. Thau recommends patience. The minutes it takes for the contact to make its way toward the front where you can see it may feel like hours, but it’ll happen eventually, with or without you trying. If you’ve been flushing and tugging and inverting to no avail, and you’re starting to panic, call your eye doctor to have him or her talk you through it. If your city has an eye hospital, you can make an emergency visit there, but Thau says it’s probably not necessary. “Stay calm and focused, and you’ll be OK.”
For more information on contacts, please visit Self.com.