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Don’t rinse your contact lenses with Clear Care, because you’ll burn your cornea

Consumer Reports News: June 03, 2010 05:31 PM

As I well know, because that’s what happened to my daughter a few years ago in one of my more inglorious moments as a parent. I had just switched from hard lenses to soft, and my contact lens dispenser recommended Clear Care for nightly cleaning and disinfection because it doesn’t contain preservatives that can cause allergies to develop. It is a hydrogen peroxide solution that you use overnight in a special lens case that causes the peroxide to fizz and clean the lenses. By morning, the caustic peroxide is neutralized, at which point you douse the lenses in the rinsing solution of your choice and put them in. My dispenser had issued a stern warning that I was never, ever to use the Clear Care as a rinse, or reinsert the lenses after any less than six hours of disinfection, or I would risk a corneal burn.

My daughter came home for a college break about this time, discovered she’d forgotten her own contact lens solution, and asked if she could borrow mine. Sure, I said absent-mindedly, it’s in the medicine cabinet. The next thing I heard were her screams of pain. She’d used the Clear Care instead of the rinsing solution. She managed to get the lens out quickly, and I helped her position her head directly under the bathroom tap to thoroughly rinse out her eye. Luckily, after a day or so the pain subsided with no permanent damage.

Turns out this was no isolated event. The Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) reports the FDA has received hundreds of complaints of similar mishaps, and you can easily find many more such accounts online. In our little corridor of offices here at Consumers Union alone we discovered two cases – my daughter’s and that of a colleague who made the same mistake when she asked to borrow rinsing solution at a relative’s home.

And it’s an easy mistake to make, especially if you don’t use Clear Care yourself. As you can see from the picture, the bottle looks pretty much like bottles of multi-purpose solutions that you can safely use to rinse your contacts. Yes, there is a narrow red warning strip at the top, but all you can see from the front is “use only lens case provided,” which isn’t terribly informative but critically important, because if you use the product in a regular lens case, it won’t neutralize the peroxide. The bottle comes with a little cardboard collar that says “do not put Clear Care directly in eye,” but it can easily be removed (or fall off). And the dispenser has a red tip, which supposedly signals that you shouldn’t put the solution directly in your eye. Have you ever heard of this? My daughter sure hadn’t.

And nowhere on the bottle is there an explicit warning that putting the stuff directly in your eye can cause a chemical burn. Or, for that matter, instructions on what to do if you make that mistake (rinse your eye with copious water or saline, it turns out). The ISMP thinks, and we agree, that Clear Care’s warning labels  should be much stronger and more visible, and stress that you can injure your cornea if you’re not careful.

Meanwhile, if you do use the product (and I still do, because it’s a heck of a lens cleaner), you might want to put a piece of tape around the bottle or in some other way change how it looks and feels so you don’t grab it by mistake. And if a visiting friend or relative asks to borrow your rinsing solution, pay way more attention than I did.

Eric Miller, a spokesperson for CIBA Vision, Clear Care's manufacturer, said that the product is "safe and effective when used as directed" and that "the warnings are clearly stated on the bottle and consistent with the FDA's regulations on medical devices."

-- Nancy Metcalf, Senior Program Editor

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