Help a massive sissy get contact lenses
September 9, 2009 12:27 PM   Subscribe

I'm a long-term glasses wearer who is going to try to make the leap to contacts. Problem: I have a really strong flinch reflex/phobia of things going into my eye. What to do about this?

I tend to freak out and pull away, e.g., during eye exams when they blow air into the eye or, worse, bring a microscope very close to my eye. The optometrist says I'll "maybe" be able to get contacts, and that he has seen worse (i.e., people fainting when the microscope gets close), but that I'm pretty bad.

I have a "training" appointment for contacts on Friday. What can I do to prepare for this? Does anyone else with a flinch reflex/eye phobia have any tips or stories about getting through this and getting comfortable with contacts?

(And should I have a couple drinks [etc.] beforehand, or is that a really stupid idea?)
posted by paultopia to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Can you get a Xanax beforehand? You could tell your primary care physician that you have an appointment that you're really freaked out about and ask for a prescription for a single pill.

I am terrible with the air machine, too. In fact so bad that they can't get a reading for me on it. I'm also really scared of a close microscope. I've never had a problem with contacts, though. I think a big difference is realizing you're in control of the situation when it comes to contacts.
posted by sickinthehead at 12:29 PM on September 9, 2009

I did the contacts thing for a while*, and I think it's kind of akin to tickling, where others can tickle you, but you rarely tickle yourself because you're in control of your touches. In the case of contacts, by holding open your eye yourself and knowing exactly what's happening, you should be able to freak out less and have more control.

It takes a legitimate adjustment period to get used to them, and you will do fine one morning and then just mess up repeatedly another. I think it took me a good 15 minutes one day, but once I was used to them, I was putting them in without a mirror.

*I quit using them mostly because I'd hate having to take them out before going to sleep instead of just going to sleep, and because I'd put on my glasses instinctively in the morning, and not bother to put in contacts later.
posted by explosion at 12:37 PM on September 9, 2009

Well, I had a pretty strong flinch reflex before I started wearing contacts, too. I used to have to wake up a half an hour early to put them in, because that's how long it eventually took for me.

Nowadays, I can poke myself in the eye with perfect aplomb.
posted by Comrade_robot at 12:37 PM on September 9, 2009

I still remember spending my first day with contacts and taking at least an hour to put them in, maybe more. I was flinching, my hands were trembling, it was a bad scene. I was also freaked out by even the tiniest fibre or piece of dust that I could see, figuring it'd just wreck my eyes when trapped between the contact. Nowadays, I can just pop them in, five seconds flat, and no worries at all. If you're committed to getting contacts, this will definitely get easier. I second the comment that being in control helps a lot, and when you get good at it, you don't even really need to touch your eye at all to get them in.

When I put in my contacts, I sometimes put a drop of solution into them first, pooled into the little concave depression. I find that this seems to help them sort of pull themselves onto my eye, meaning I don't have to actually push them on. That trick might help you a bit.

I found the training appt to be not really worth my time, and if you're struggling with it, just take them home and go at your own pace putting them in there. I could see you feeling a bit of pressure at the optometrists and feeling a bit rushed. Your optometrist would surely let you book another training session if you couldn't figure it out at home.
posted by dnesan at 12:38 PM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd just go to the training in your normal state, and see if you can learn to pull yourself together and insert the lenses. Seriously, if you have to have a couple of drinks before you put them in, perhaps contact lenses are not for you.

Nothing wrong with that -- I never got comfortable touching my eyes either, nor did I like the creepy "something in my eye" feeling of contacts, and after a year of trying in the 90s, went back to glasses and never regretted it.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 12:40 PM on September 9, 2009

Why don't you practice, in a mirror? Wash your hands thoroughly, and spend a bit of time in the morning and evening gently poking the white part of your eyeball while you look at your finger touching it.

I would wait till you get contacts to do anything like this. The feeling of touching my eye with the contact on my finger seems much different to me than touching my eye with my finger alone. The contact lens doesn't feel rough or hurt at all, I think it would be better to try with the contact lens, if at all.
posted by dnesan at 12:43 PM on September 9, 2009

My Dad is like you: we never thought that he'd be able to switch to contacts because of his strong reflexes and reluctance to touch his eyes, but he has been happily wearing contacts now for a few years. I was still living at home when he was getting used to his contacts, and I remember that it didn't seem like a fun process for him at all.

He bought one of those dorky make-up mirrors with magnification and built-in lights, and would set it up on the table every morning and night to put his contacts in or take them out. Sometimes it took him as much as 20-30 minutes, but eventually he learned to be comfortable with it and do it in a snap.

Also, my parents are lucky enough to live just a few blocks away from their ophthalmologist: I remember Dad taking a few impromptu trips to the doctor to remove his contacts when he got too frustrated with the process.
posted by halogen at 12:45 PM on September 9, 2009

From your username, you sound male, but in seriousness: Start wearing mascara. It will totally remove the eye flinch thing.

Obviously, you don't want to put the contacts in after the mascara is on, but if you want to get used to being close to the eyeball, learn how to apply eyemakeup. Night gig as a drag queen is optional.
posted by kellyblah at 12:49 PM on September 9, 2009

Echoing what others have said: you'll get used to it in no time. I'm much like you, and I thought I'd never be able to touch my eyes regularly. I switched from glasses to contacts at the beginning of the year, and after a week or so of struggling to put them in (and allowing extra time in my morning routine), it became second nature.
posted by smich at 12:50 PM on September 9, 2009

I've never been able to do the "puff" test well - I freak out, pull away, my eyes start watering uncontrollably, etc. But I am also a contact lens wearer, and have been successfully for years.

Here are some of my secrets:

- Everyone says you're supposed to look straight ahead when you're putting contacts in. That is bull puckey. I purposely look as far to the left/right as possible, so I'm actually putting the contact on the side of my eyeball. For some reason, it feels way less sensitive than actually touching the front of my eye.

- Cut your fingernails down to the quick. Reduces the chances of tearing them (which I did a bunch) and also reduces the chance of touching your eyeball with a pointy fingernail. *shudder*

- Moisten the inside of the contact (as dnesan said) but also moisten your fingertip with saline, so the contact doesn't stick to your finger. Nothing worse than getting it on the 'ball, but then having your finger pull it back out.

- Deep breaths. No matter what your eyeball is not going to fall out because of this.* Consider poking yourself in the eye - gently, of course - with your eyelids closed. It helps get you comfortable with the weird sensation of putting pressure on your eyeball, but doesn't hurt like touching it with a bare finger.

Good luck! You can totally do this, and the convenience of contacts over glasses is WAY worth it.

* note: I am not an optometrist, nor am I an expert on eye-falling-out syndromes.
posted by harperpitt at 12:51 PM on September 9, 2009

I got contacts when I was about 14, and was -- and am -- much like you. I am all but impossible at eye exams, can't keep my eyes open at the puff test, etc. So it's possible.

First off: you can almost certainly get a pair of test lenses for free, so if you find that after a lot of time and effort you still can't get them in, you're not out a lot of money. Do not drug yourself before trying it out.

Second: I found the lessons helpful, but not sufficient. I had to learn my own way to put them in. Essentially I use one hand only, my middle finger holding my lower lid open, my index finger with the lens on it, and I put it on my eye, usually partially or fully on the white of my eye, then move my eye under the closed eyelid to centre it properly. This means I am somewhat slower than most regular users. During the course of learning to put them on (which took me 2-3 months), I would spend up to 30 minutes a day, often failing, and doing a lot of crying. It was really hard, and I cannot now remember why I was so insistent on doing it. I think I was forced to by my parents. But if you're not dedicated, it will be very hard to persevere. (I can now put my contacts in at a normal speed.)

Third: it's a million times easier to take the lenses out. It might be easier for you if they put them in the first time and you take them out. I pull them off my iris and pupil, then lift them off the white of my eye. Again, this is non-standard, but might make it easier for you.

Fourth: be stingy with solution in your eye. If you're like me, liquid in your eye also sets off the flinch reflex and so you will have more trouble if it's too wet. (Too dry is bad in a different way.) I like to pour the excess solution on, then try to drip it off, so it's wet, but there is no significant amount of liquid in it, because when there is I never get them in.

Fifth: the way contacts change your eyesight is different from how glasses do. Things will look weird, but this is normal.

The most important things are that it most likely will take you a lot of time to be able to put them in consistently, and that you will probably have to find a somewhat different technique to the standard one. Ophthamologists have raised eyebrows at my weird methods, but have always said it was fine if it worked for me.
posted by jeather at 1:02 PM on September 9, 2009

A friend was hypnotized and swears by it. He's a therapist that shares office space with another therapist that does hypnotism as part her practice and he was in that beginning to need bifocals stage and wanted to try contacts with readers instead of bifocals but had never been able to get contacts in.
One session and that was it. Within a couple of weeks he was able to get them in and out without a problem.
posted by readery at 1:04 PM on September 9, 2009

I got contacts over 10 years ago. Never looked back to glasses. If I couldn't wear contacts I would get eye surgery.

First off: I went to a training class when I first got my contacts. It look me about an hour to get one contact in (everyone else went home already). The second try it took about 10 seconds. A lot of it depends on how irritated my eyes are; if I can't get my contacts in by try number three, I take a break. When my eyes (and myself) are irritated I just end of jabbing myself in the eye and dropping the lens. So take a break if you feel like you're not getting anywhere, wash your hands and put some drops in.

You don't really poke your eye with your finger. You let the contact touch the eye and then the contact will peel away from your finger. The hard part is not blinking.

I also have the best luck putting contacts in right after a shower. Possibly because my eyes are nice and clean and watery. I would take a shower right before going to the class.
posted by meowzilla at 1:24 PM on September 9, 2009

It took me almost 45 minutes to get mine in the first time. Here's what works for me. Stand in front of a mirror. To put the left contact in, turn your head to the left and then look forward into the mirror. Put the contact in on the far left side of your eye. Your eyeball won't see it coming. Once it's on, you can move it to the centre by blinking, or pushing it there with your finger (touching the contact in your eye is way easier than trying to touch your naked eye). Do the same for the right eye, but turning your head to the right. Good luck!
posted by Go Banana at 1:26 PM on September 9, 2009

I got contacts when I was 10 (so 15 years ago) and I can't even remember the "difficult" part of the learning process. To this day, the glaucoma air puff test fills me with dread, I get the willies when they turn my eyelids inside out during exams, and I'm incredibly queasy about all things eye-related -- which is why I can't stand to get LASIK -- but I have absolutely, positively, no issues whatsoever about putting in or taking out my contacts. So as others have said, don't panic! You can do it!

Keep your hands clean, practice with them over a flat space (not a trash can, not a sink, not anywhere else they can fall and be lost), and just be patient/relax. With one incredibly stupid exception*, I've never had a contact lens be painful. Uncomfortable, sure, but never painful. And it's never the fault of the finger-in-eye mechanics.

Good luck!

*Important lesson: when staying over at someone's house, don't assume their contact solution is the same as yours. What you think is the multipurpose rub solution may actually be basically pure hydrogen peroxide used in conjunction with a neutralizer. And if you don't know to put the neutralizer in your case, it's hurtin' for you the next morning. Oh god, the pain....
posted by olinerd at 1:36 PM on September 9, 2009

- Everyone says you're supposed to look straight ahead when you're putting contacts in. That is bull puckey. I purposely look as far to the left/right as possible, so I'm actually putting the contact on the side of my eyeball. For some reason, it feels way less sensitive than actually touching the front of my eye.

Do they say that?! I learned to put contacts in at thirteen, so I forget how I was "taught", but I look all the way to the side, too, and have never had a problem--even though I suck at the puff test.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:41 PM on September 9, 2009

Practice, practice, practice. I was terrible at first, and can do it just fine now.
posted by entropic at 1:43 PM on September 9, 2009

Oh, man, I remember my contact lens training. I was just like you, unbearably squicked out about putting stuff in my eyes, and it took me forever to get one lens in, let alone both. I was there about two hours past the time when everyone else had gone home.

I wouldn't recommend practicing by poking yourself in the eye ahead of time; that's a way more uncomfortable and off-putting sensation than putting in a contact. When I put my contacts in, my finger never really makes contact with my actual eye. Once the edges of the lens touch my eye (you can feel it), I just blink, and it's in.

I've been wearing contacts for about fifteen years now, and all I can offer is what everyone else has said: keep practicing, and try not to get too frustrated if it takes awhile. As all the stories above have demonstrated, it is not easy at first. But within a week or so, you should have no problem putting them in. Good luck!
posted by anderjen at 2:22 PM on September 9, 2009

Heh. My eye doc tried fitting me for contacts many moons ago. I completely passed-out on her in the chair the moment the lens touched my eye. Never tried contacts ever since.

So, obviously, I can relate. But, if you don't freak as badly as should be able to acclimate yourself. On the other hand, there's no shame in sticking with glasses. Good luck.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:39 PM on September 9, 2009

I am one of the people who tried contacts and could never, after years of trying, get over the squick about putting stuff in my eye. So maybe you won't get over it. But most people get over it--I'm an outlier.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:58 PM on September 9, 2009

I got hard contacts many years ago at the age of 12. My eye doctor told me at the time that success with contact lenses was proportional to the wearer's motivation. I really wanted to be out of glasses to make playing sports easier and so that I would look cuter. I was very motivated and it was tough at the beginning but it got much better very fast.

If you want this badly enough, and take deep breaths, and focus your energy on remaining calm and open, you should be able to do this. Good luck.
posted by Kangaroo at 3:01 PM on September 9, 2009

On my appointment like the one you're about to have, I got the first one on the first try and the second one took me an hour to put in! So my first advice is to be patient with yourself.

Remember that you're not really touching your eye - you're bringing the lens up near your eye, and when you get the hang of putting them in, its "sticky" nature will take it the last little bit there. It's not like poking yourself in the eye and I would not suggest practicing doing so - even if your hands are perfectly clean, it'll sting something awful.

One habit I got into early on (I started wearing lenses at 11) is filling the lens with saline before bringing it up to the eye. That gives you a little bit of cushion in placing them, making it feel more comfortable than just inserting the lens all by itself.

I pull my lower lid down, look up, place the lens, blink, and there you go.
posted by jocelmeow at 3:08 PM on September 9, 2009

I am also sensitive to touching my eye. The puff test is torture for me. I think that you may find contacts different, though. I agree with those who say you probably should not practice until you get the contacts. Bare fingers are much different than a smooth, moist contact lens. The contact lens itself feels kind of like your eyelid when it glides on smooth. I really like the saline solution to be slightly cool - I find that the coolness soothes any irritation that my eye may be experiencing. It is a little disconcerting to feel the contact moving around in your eye - if you have a bad astigmatism and need toric lenses, this may come into play. Nonetheless, it didn't take too long for me to get used to the sensation of contacts.

One more thing to remember: a doctor putting contacts in your eyes and you putting contacts in your eyes are not the same thing and will feel totally different. Same for removal. I have recently been trying to re-acclimate to contacts and had one that I just couldn't get out. The doctor casually stuck his finger under my eye, pulled upward and popped it out. OH MY GOD. I let him know that he wasn't to do that again. That leads me to another point - talk to your doc and make sure they know you are uncomfortable with it. They may have some ideas and will be sensitive to your needs.

Also, the nice thing about contacts is that you can do trials without committing. I'm on my third trial pair now and all my followup visits are free. YMMV, but you should be able to fully explore contacts without worrying whether or not you're wasting time.
posted by bristolcat at 3:08 PM on September 9, 2009

I've busted out laughing when the OD got near my eye once. It scared the shit out of her. I also have a really hard time on the air puff test, and when I first got contacts it took me like 20 minutes to get my eye to stay open. As a kid, my parents would have to hold me down and hold my eyes open to put in drops because I'd flinch so bad. Now I can put in contacts without looking, and touch my eyeball without flinching. You just get used to it. Practice and time are really the only things you can count on.
I would NOT suggest taking a Xanax or similar meds before going. You want to be coordinated and alert, because it does take a good touch to get the contact in right without having to keep fiddling with it.
posted by ishotjr at 3:22 PM on September 9, 2009

I've been a contact wearer for 15+ years and I still hate, hate, hate, hate the air puffer machine so don't let that be the end of contacts for you. I've found that just like many things, what is intolerable to have others do to you is perfectly fine if you are doing it to yourself. All you need to do is practice a bit and I bet you will be fine.
posted by mmascolino at 3:35 PM on September 9, 2009

Here's my method for overcoming the flinch/blink reflex for putting in contacts.

(can't help with the stupid air machine, though, sorry.)
posted by scody at 3:55 PM on September 9, 2009

I had no idea there were training classes! I just had a really, really patient eye doctor (we spent about two hours that first visit, and I *know* she must have scheduled other patients during that time).

I, too, had a terrible blink-and-flinch reflex and I have one word of advice for you--besides the seconding of the advice to put a drop of solution in the center of the contact when you're putting it in, as it makes it easier to adhere to the eye for whatever reason.

My advice? If you really, really want to do this, and you struggle with putting the contacts in, have the doctor put one contact in. Spend as long as you need getting the other contact in, and if you can't do it, go home. Your plan (or rather, my very canny eye doctor's plan, since this is who I'm borrowing it from) is to either get one contact OUT or one contact IN since you will go crazy if you do not do one or the other. It's an extra motivation, in other words.
posted by librarylis at 4:18 PM on September 9, 2009

Forgive me if this is repetitive. I didn't quite have time to read all the other answers. But in my case, I had a strong blink reflex when I started, but I got over it with surprising speed. The first week or so, I had to budget myself about a half-hour to get my lenses in. But each time it got easier and easier, and now I can jam my finger in there with no fuss at all. Just give yourself ample time at first so you don't rush and make yourself crazy, and you'll get used to it before too long. Mostly because you'll really enjoy not having glasses on. Contacts are a BIG improvement in your quality of life. Not TiVo big, but still pretty great.
posted by Doctor Suarez at 4:21 PM on September 9, 2009

Train yourself to enjoy the moment- I love the cool, refreshing feeling of the fresh saline solution squeezing out from the contact lens. And I love the remarkably better vision that contact lenses provide.

Helpful hints- make sure your contact lens environment is darn near sterile before you begin.

Rinse off the solution that is in the contact container with new solution. Rinse off your hands with new solution.

When you wash your hands, use a soap that DOES NOT have anti-bacterial stuff in it, and DOES NOT have any moisturizers in it. The gold standard for me is Neutrogena bar soap. The residue of that other stuff makes your (my) eyes burn, and sometimes contaminates the lens and it gets blurry. Once you wash your hands, do not touch anything with your fingertips except the lens- don't even dry them. Little fibers from towels and specs of dust everywhere can get in there and make your eyes burn, or worse.

Use your other hand to hold your eyelid open.

Put a mirror on the table and use it to look at what you are doing with your other eye. Don't use the eye you are putting the lens into to try to aim your finger in; use the other eye to see what your finger is doing.

When you take them out, put a couple of drops of eye-wetter stuff in and let it work in. Then, make sure your clean hands are dry. Pinch the edge of the lens with two fingers and it will pop right off.
posted by gjc at 4:40 PM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I can't imagine you're reading this far down, but if so I just did what you're about to do, and while at first it was very hard, eventually you'll get the hang of it, just keep trying. It took me about a week.

Also, while I didn't have booze, they did numb my eyes for pressure measuring and that made it a lot easier, so maybe ask them to give you those drops, that will help a ton
posted by Large Marge at 5:21 PM on September 9, 2009

I was in sixth grade when I got contacts (glasses ever since I can remember) and it took three visits to the eye doctor to become OK putting them in myself. Each time after that took about 40 minutes and after three months I was down to five. Seems like I'm just like everyone else here, the folks at the eye doctor told me I had the strongest blink reflex they've ever seen.

Now I just wear glasses because they're cheaper and more comfortable for my eyes.
posted by Brian Puccio at 7:09 PM on September 9, 2009

I cannot aim my finger directly at my eye to put in my contacts. Just does not work for me. In order to put mine in, I get the contact situated on my finger and check it for fuzz/whatever; rinse it again if it has grabbed some towel fuzz out of the air, etc. The contact is on my pointer finger - I'm right handed - and I then bring my hand to my face, being sure to keep the pointer finger up, whilst placing the pad of my middle finger on my lower eye lid and pulling it down as I look UP with my eye. Then, I place the contact on the exposed, not-cornea, part of my eye, roll my eye back down into the normal seeing position, and release my lower lid.

However, don't feel bad if you can't do it. I've got fairly large, open eyes and years of wearing contacts have literally numbed me to stuff touching my eyes (although I've done as I described above for YEARS). My husband's eyes are shaped differently from mine, and he has a blinking reflex that is literally freaky to me. He cannot wear contacts. Good luck.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:21 PM on September 9, 2009

To the good advice here, I'd add: keep your contact lenses immaculately clean. Make sure not only that your hands are clean and fuzz-free when you pick the lenses up, but also that you're changing your solution, and keeping the lenses completely free of grit, fleck, fuzzies, bits, tears (rhymes with bears not leers!), protein buildup, goobies, thingies, and other nearly-invisible yet eye-agonizing contaminants
posted by Bergamot at 9:31 PM on September 9, 2009

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