How to tell if a contact is still in your eye — and find it when it's lost

  • Many contact users have "lost" their lenses in their eyes.

  • It can be hard to tell whether a contact is still in your eye, doctors say.

  • Luckily, contacts can't ever slip behind the eye.

If you're one of the 45 million Americans who wear contact lenses, you might have experienced the anxiety that happens when you can't tell whether a contact is still in your eye.

While it may seem unlikely to people who haven't worn contacts, it's common for lenses to slip out of place and become difficult to find, says Dr. Inna Lazar, an eye doctor with Greenwich Eye Care in Greenwich, Connecticut. When that happens, the most important thing to remember is "don't panic," Lazar said.

"It's crucial to stay calm and not to rub your eyes, as this can potentially cause the lens to tear or damage your eye," she said.

Here's how to tell if a contact is still in your eye — and get it out safely.

Start by washing your hands

Before you start fishing around for a lost lens, wash your hands very well. That way, you won't introduce any germs or dirt that could irritate your eye more.

Check your vision

If you're not sure whether the contact is still in your eye, start by checking your vision. The differences in vision can be slight, so cover the other eye, Lazar says. Then, evaluate your vision in the eye where the contact is missing.

"If your vision is blurry or distorted in one eye, it could be a sign that the lens has moved out of place," she said.

Use a mirror and light

If your vision is blurry, the contact might have fallen out of your eye or just slipped out of its usual spot. In that case, you need to look for it elsewhere in your eye. Do this with a mirror and a bright light, like a makeup light or ring light. A magnifying mirror can also help.

"You might see the edge of the lens peeking out from under the eyelid," or on the sclera, the white part of the eye, Lazar said.

Close your eyes and roll them

Still can't find that lens? Try closing your eyes and rolling them. That can reposition the contact, making it easier to spot. If that doesn't work, add artificial tears to your eyes to help the lens move more freely. Blinking rapidly might also help.

Try 'slide and seek'

If moving your eyes doesn't work, try what Lazar calls "slide and seek." Close your eye and gently feel over the lid. A bump or ripple could be your lens.

Once you have an idea of where the lens might be, look in the opposite direction (if it's in the right part of your eye, look left). Then, with your eye closed, "gently massage your eyelid to coax the lens back into place," Lazar said.

Check your lids

Oftentimes, lost lenses are in the eyelids, Lazar says. This is especially common if you have dry eyes. Start by checking your bottom lid by pulling it downward.

"Then, inspect the upper area by pulling your upper eyelid up while looking down," she said. Since it can be tricky to see your lid, you might need to have someone help you with your search.

Remember, it can't get behind your eye

Some people worry that their contacts have traveled to the back of their eyes and are lost forever. But that's impossible.

"A contact lens cannot get 'lost' behind your eye due to the structure of your eye," Lazar said. That's because the conjunctiva, the membrane that covers the front of the eye, forms "a pocket that prevents objects from going behind your eye."

Call your doctor if you're uncomfortable

When you've tried all that and still can't find your lens, it's time to contact your doctor. They'll be able to use their equipment to see if the lens is still in your eye, or to treat any discomfort you're experiencing. Don't feel silly calling your doctor—most eye doctors have helped patients retrieve a missing contact before.

"Safety should always come first when dealing with your eyes," Lazar said. "If you're ever in doubt, reach out to an eye doctor for advice."

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