Handwashing is something that most Americans know is important. But, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) we may not be doing handwashing correctly and/or often enough. Hands contaminated with germs are not only a threat to a person's overall health, but there is a specific risk for individuals who wear contact lenses. Any harmful organisms on hands can be transferred to contact lenses during the handling process and this greatly increases the risk for serious eye infections.
We all know that handwashing is important when preparing food. The CDC estimates that the smallest amount of human or animal feces on hands may contain trillions of microorganisms. That's scary enough. But, the CDC also says many of these germs are transferred to everyday things like hand rails, door handles, table tops, chairs, toys and other commonly encountered items.
According to the CDC's Handwashing Website, there is a correct way to wash your hands. Here's the rules to remember:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice.
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them
The other aspect to proper handwashing is frequency. It goes without saying that handwashing should be done before handling food, after handling raw meats, after using the bathroom, after sneezing, and after handling pets. Handwashing before handling contact lenses is an absolute requirement for successful contact lens wear. Washing hands may also be beneficial after activities in public areas, during and after work, and before and after handling children.
What about waterless, alcohol-based hand sanitizers? According to the CDC, these sanitizers may be a good option when clean water is not available. However, the CDC warns that many of these hand sanitizers are still not effective as handwashing with soap and clean water. Also, from a contact lens handling perspective hand sanitizers are not advised prior to handling contact lenses. These sanitizers will transfer alcohol to the surface of the contact lenses which will subsequently cause potentially severe eye irritation.