Refilling contact lens solution bottles - eye or nay?
April 3, 2007 10:09 AM   Subscribe

Refilling contact lens solution bottles with contact lens solution?

I live in London and travel a great deal on biz, both long haul as well about Europe.

Recently The European Union enacted travel rules, restricting the volume of liquids in carry on luggage to 100ml or less per bottle. There is no way to circumvent this restriction; if your bottle is capable of holding more than 100ml, even if partially full security will confiscate it.

This presents a problem, as I'm frugal and prefer to purchase contact lens solution in bottles of 500ml or larger. Recently I bought a new brand of contact lens solution and noticed that their 100ml bottles have a spout which is fitted, NOT molded into the plastic; in other words, I can pry the spout off, empty the bottle or even refill it should I choose to do so.

So if I'm careful about hygiene, always washing my hands, being sure never to contaminate the tip of either bottle, is this a good or bad idea?

I already wear daily disposables, reuse mine and don't want to discard a fresh pair. And I know that I could check my bag with bottles larger than 100ml, but that's not viable because of my schedule - sometimes I'll visit three cities in one and a half days and a lost bag just ain't gonna find me.

Many thanks for your help!
posted by Mutant to Health & Fitness (20 answers total)
There was a recent article in the Washington Post about contact lens solution related accidents that is worth a read.
posted by divka at 10:15 AM on April 3, 2007

I have one small bottle of contact lens solution I use for exactly this purpose. I take it traveling, and when it gets low, I pop the top off and refill from a big bottle. Never had a problem.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 10:18 AM on April 3, 2007

Using contact lenses is already inviting an eye infection. This will make it worse.

Put it this way -- would you consider drinking water that had been left in a sports bottle on the counter for a couple weeks? No? Then would you rinse your eyes with that water instead?
posted by cotterpin at 10:25 AM on April 3, 2007

Best answer: I see travel cases with bottles like this one and even this one all the time at pharmacies and such all the time, so I should think that if refilling bottle was a hygiene issue, these products would not be sold, right? I think that it is perfectly safe to refill your solution bottle.
posted by foxinthesnow at 10:26 AM on April 3, 2007

If you have no problem with it not being sterile, then go for it. Personally I think this is a bad idea. Why not just buy a travel size of solution?
posted by agregoli at 10:30 AM on April 3, 2007

The linked Washington Post article is basically akin to "don't stab yourself in the face." I won't dispute that moving the solutions around makes it easier to put perfume in your eye, but it doesn't seem like a significant risk to me if you are careful. I would be careful to squirt the solution directly from the large bottle to the small one, and to frequently sterilize the small one, though.

I don't wear contacts anymore, but I know many people who do, and some of them do this sort of thing and none have had any problems.
posted by jcwagner at 10:30 AM on April 3, 2007

You're asking for an infection at the worst possible time, when you're away from home. You can buy little bottles of solution, or ask your eye doctor for a bunch of samples. And be careful resusing daily lenses, they can tear easily and because they are more permeable absorb a lot more gunk (technical term) from the air and your eye.

Somewhat off topic, but consider Lasik or similar eye surgery. If you add up what you spend on contacts, solutions, eye doctors, spare glasses, etc over a couple of years, it starts to make financial (not just cosmetic) sense.

Caveats: IANAD, and I apologize for sounding scolding.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 10:34 AM on April 3, 2007

I have seen similar kits to the one foxinthesnow posted above, and think they're a great idea. As long as you are not stupid like the people in the Washington Post article I think you're fine. Especially if you're talking about actual contact lens solution and not just plain saline, since actual solution kills some bacteria that would grow on the lens.

Put it this way -- would you consider drinking water that had been left in a sports bottle on the counter for a couple weeks? No? Then would you rinse your eyes with that water instead?

Unlike the water, no mouth-to-bottle or eye-to-bottle contact is made. The tip of the nozzle on the lens solution should never come in direct contact with the contact lens, your eye, or your hands. Thus, I think even though it's not perfectly sterile, it's good enough.

I think it's more icky to reuse disposable contact lenses than to transfer solution from one bottle to another, to be honest. I wear daily disposables, and by the end of the day they feel sorta dried out and uncomfortable. I couldn't imagine reusing them. Have you thought about weekly disposables for a safer alternative?
posted by tastybrains at 10:37 AM on April 3, 2007

Best answer: The best part of the inane liquid rules is the 100ml/3oz restriction is the smallest size sold is usually 120ml/4oz.

I've worn contact lenses for 25 years and haven't risked the refilling bottles yet. It just seems too risky. I wouldn't use one of those bottle things foxinthesnow links to either. Also, in the US at least, some -- not all -- airports require the bottles in the ziplock back to have labels showing their volume.

For this current thing at the airport I got a travel kit with a 50ml bottle from my optometrist that I will use sparingly when I travel. I also have a few even smaller bottles to use when that bottle is used up.

I used to just take the 500ml bottle with me when I traveled. In this new bullshit world we live in, I just need to make sure I only use the plane-safe bottles on the road. And if my 500ml bottle gets empty not to dip into "just until I can get to the store".

I'd really like to see the airport people get rid of this stupid rule or make the minimums actually match the smallest sized sold -- not just contact lens stuff, but many toiletries come either in tiny 10ml sizes or 120ml sizes.
posted by birdherder at 10:37 AM on April 3, 2007

I've been wearing contacts for 12 years, since I was in fifth grade. I (gasp!) don't always wash my hands before putting them in or taking them out. I (gasp!) don't always rub for the full 30 seconds. I (gasp!) wear two-week contacts for 30 days (on the advice of my gasp! optometrist). I (gasp!) sometimes use the same solution for two or three days in a row, if I'm stuck doing so -- camping, for example.

I have never gotten an eye infection.

I would do what you are suggesting without thinking twice about it.

But that is me, and I also eat stuff that has fallen on the floor and I enjoy sketchy Mexican street food. YMMV.
posted by olinerd at 10:54 AM on April 3, 2007

(The point of the Washington Post article is that even very smart people open themselves up to extremely dumb major and even not-so-dumb minor accidents when they are tired and harried from traveling. So, just be extra careful when messing around with sterile fluids that go in your eye.)
posted by divka at 10:58 AM on April 3, 2007

Has anyone tried boiling one of those little bottles? If they hold up, they should be just as safe as the 500 ml bottle you fill them from.

As a fellow frugal person, I'm amused at how quickly people will tell you to "just buy" a wasteful product you don't want to buy.
posted by Doctor Barnett at 11:01 AM on April 3, 2007

Best answer: I'm with Olinerd.
I refill mini travel bottles all the time (although I do dump out any old solution that is in there and rinse the bottle), and have not had a problem (actually, I never even thought of it).

Also -- don't boil a plastic bottle, please :)
posted by echo0720 at 11:22 AM on April 3, 2007

What if you you got one of those baby bottle sterilizers (either microwave or top-rack of your dishwasher) and sterilize the 100ml bottle before refilling it?
posted by misterbrandt at 11:46 AM on April 3, 2007

I do this all the time: my little 3oz travel bottle has tooth-marks all over the cap from my taking it off with my teeth.
posted by gleuschk at 11:53 AM on April 3, 2007

check the bottle in, and buy a new small bottle if the bag loses you?
posted by stereo at 12:10 PM on April 3, 2007

I had a former colleague who wore her disposable lenses longer than the prescribed time, and developed a severe eye infection from it. I think it involved scratched corneas, as well. She was unable to wear lenses for quite a while. Another friend of mine developed an allergy to her lenses from overwearing them and now is restricted to glasses. Yet another friend developed a long-term infection from that contaminated solution that was recalled last year. This is your vision. It's REALLY not worth the meager savings. IMHO (as someone with 15+ years of experience with lenses and as someone who works in a health field) you've got two options here--wear the daily disposables once, as intended, and then you don't have to worry about the solution at all (incidently, I've done the cost analysis, and for many brands of daily disposables it's just as cheap as the two-week kind, since you're not buying solution, at least in the US). OR, just buy the travel size of solution and get yourself the two week or longer disposable lenses. Really. How much are you saving here? A pound a month? If that? Versus the potential cost to your vision? Personally, I don't see that it's worth it.

Doctor Barnett, he's asking about whether it's a good or bad idea, so yeah...of course she's going to get that kind of response. We're talking cost here, not whether or not something is possible.
posted by min at 1:28 PM on April 3, 2007

I just returned from a trip to Boston and was hassled at both LAX and Providence airports about my contact lens solution which was in my carry-on. I can't find travel/small size bottles of my solution and my eye doctor always seems to be out of samples, so I am forced to carry the regular size bottle. Interestingly, recent trips to Houston and Kauai (leaving from LAX) resulted in no hassles during the screening process, but, I've gotten conflicting information from TSA screeners about declaring contact lens/solution~declare, don't declare, it is a medical solution, it isn't, etc. After returning from this trip, I called the contact lens specialist at my opthamologist's office and he suggested the baby sterilizer route for a travel size bottle. Cost and inconvenience shouldn't matter when it comes to your eyes.
posted by socrateaser at 2:05 PM on April 3, 2007

There is a world of difference between being "careful about hygiene" and filling a solution in a sterile environment. Probably, nothing will happen to you. However, keep in mind the recent eye infections caused by solution that was filled in a sterile, or at least aseptic environment. They are both painful and potentially dangerous to your eyesight.

Then again, I've eaten food off the floor, too ;)
posted by kamikazegopher at 4:34 PM on April 3, 2007

Not to derail, but you might consider just taking a normal sized bottle with you. I'm not sure about the EU regulations, but the US regulations (and they're the ones who started this mess, MIRITE????) say specifically
To ensure the health and welfare of certain air travelers... items greater than 3 ounces of the following liquids, gels and aerosols are permitted through the security checkpoint (all exceptions must be presented to the security officer in front of the checkpoint):

...All prescription and over-the-counter medications (liquids, gels, and aerosols) including KY jelly, eye drops, and saline solution for medical purposes...

You are not limited in the amount or volume of these above items you may bring in your carry-on baggage. However, if these items are in containers larger than three ounces, please perform the following:

1. Separate these items from the liquids, gels, and aerosols in your quart-size and zip-top bag.
2. Declare you have the items to one of our Security Officers at the security checkpoint.
3. Present these items for additional inspection once reaching the X-ray. These items are subject to additional screening.
Emphasis mine, of course, and check with your local regulations.
posted by Brittanie at 8:52 PM on April 3, 2007

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