Eye Errors with Iris Botcher #2

Eye Errors with Iris Botcher #2

By Iris Botcher

Welcome back to Eye Errors. As I've said before, "Some people exist to serve as a warning to others." This is where they come to chat.

My task is to teach you the best way to take care of your eyes and contact lenses – not by telling you what to do, but rather by showing where some... misguided individuals ...have gone wrong.

Our first installment was a roaring success, and I've been flooded with new tales of ocular woe. However, I'm always on the lookout for that next big mistake. If you or someone you know has ever done something... less than brilliant involving your eyes or contact lenses, please contact me and tell me your story. I promise I'll be nice.

Dear Iris,

This story's from a while back, but I thought it was too good not to pass on.

Maybe 15-20 years ago, I was getting ready for bed one evening, and I realized I had run out of disinfectant solution for my contact lenses. It was too late to go out and buy more, but I had a sudden flash of inspiration.

I don't know if you remember, but back before disinfectant solution, to keep your contact lenses clean, you would put your lens case in a special heater overnight. At this point, I had long since moved on from these heaters, but I'd used them before, and I thought to myself, "Why couldn't I just pop my contacts in the microwave for a few seconds? It's practically the same thing!"

So, I grabbed my lenses, put them in a case with some saline solution – didn't tighten the lids, of course – and set the microwave for 15 seconds. Maybe you see where this is going...

About five seconds in, there was a loud pop, and both caps flew off the lens case! I stopped the microwave and checked the case, and both contacts had completely disappeared!

I thought I was being clever, but my good idea blew up in my face – literally! What happened? Where did my lenses go?

Can't wait to hear back,
Microwave Unsafe

Dear M.U.,

Last time we had someone devouring their contacts; this time, someone cooking them. Just to clear things up: CONTACT LENSES ARE NOT CHICKEN NUGGETS. I cannot make this any plainer.

That said, I can't really blame you for the error. It was the 80s after all, and we were all making dreadful mistakes, like wearing shoulder pads and listening to Wham!.

Still, I rather admire your dedication to ocular hygiene – rather than risk infection, you chose to risk vaporizing your lenses. That's commitment!

As to what actually happened to your lenses, here are my thoughts:

1) Saline solution, although fine for cleaning and storing lenses normally, was less than ideal for the microwave. Designed to mimic our own tears, the salt content of the solution actually raised the boiling point of the water, allowing it to get hotter than normal.

2) One problem with microwaves is that, when heating liquid in a completely smooth container (like a contact case), the microwave can actually superheat the fluid, sending it over the boiling point, without actually boiling. In effect, this transforms the liquid into something of a time bomb, the slightest disturbance jumpstarting a boil – and a sudden explosion of steam and hot water.

3) Even though you only microwaved your lenses for a few seconds, you were heating such small pools of liquid that a lot can happen in that time. The temperature of the liquid probably rose well over the boiling point of water, actually dissolving your lenses into the solution.

4) This, in turn, likely upset the delicate balance that was keeping the liquid from boiling, causing it to violently burst and pop the lids off your case. What was left of your lenses went with the water vapor in the blast.

Something of the perfect storm, no? Or, if I may, a worst case scenario.

Thankfully, we have left behind the era of special heaters and three different lens solutions. These days, a multi-purpose product like OPTI-FREE® RepleniSH® solution allows you to clean, store and disinfect your lenses without any need for pyrotechnics.

Dear Iris,

Love your column. I think I made an eye error recently, but I'm not entirely sure. Let me explain.

I haven't been on a plane for a while, but I had a business trip coming up, so I tried to prepare as well as I could. I knew the Transportation Security Administration had come up with a pretty stringent set of rules about what I could and couldn't take with me on board the plane, so I studied up and packed accordingly. 3-1-1, everything like that.

However, I ended up having an issue with my contact lens solution. The way the TSA website read, it made it sound like lens solution was exempt from the normal 3.8 oz. bottle rule. However, when I presented my bottle of solution during the bag search, the TSA agent said it wasn't allowed. I tried to argue, but he seemed so unrelenting that I decided to just throw my solution away, before I was picked for a "random" strip search.

Anyway, was I in the wrong here? The rules were phrased pretty confusingly – you know the government – so I thought I'd come to the expert.

Reproached in Coach

Dear Reproached,

To me, this sounds like an eye error on the part of the TSA, not you. From what I've heard, though, when it comes to air travel, contact lens solution can be something of a gray area.

Technically, you are correct – according to the TSA website, even though you are normally restricted to 3.8 oz. bottles of liquids in your carry-on, "saline solution" (which includes eye drops and multi-purpose contact lens solution) is allowed in amounts greater than that – provided you don't include it in your standard 1 quart bag and that you "declare" the bottle of solution to the TSA agent and allow them to inspect it.

The problem is, because the TSA rules are long and constantly changing, not every agent is going to know about the lens solution exception and may reject the bottle regardless.

On top of that, as you said, the rule is worded rather vaguely; saline solution is allowed "for medical purposes," a term that can be open to the interpretation of whichever TSA agent you wind up with. They may argue that you don't really need lens solution on your flight, but if you've ever been stuck on a 12 hour trip with dry, tired eyes, you'd probably take issue with that.

In the end, there are a few things you can do to avoid confusion:

The first is to try and stick to a smaller bottle; an agent is less likely to hassle you over 4 ounces of solution than a giant value-sized bottle of it.

The second is to come prepared with information; below, you'll find links to the TSA pages that make mention of saline solution. Carry a printout of these pages (or keep them opened on your laptop if you're bringing one) in case anyone confronts you. If you show them their own rules, they won't be able to argue with you nearly as much.

Finally, OPTI-FREE® products is in the process of adding a "TSA Compliant" label to their 4 ounce solution bottles, which should hopefully speed things along for everyone.

P.S. One more thing: You might be tempted to transfer some of your contact solution to a smaller sized bottle – avoid all the hassle – but it just might cost you more in the long run. The moment the solution leaves the bottle it came in, it's no longer considered sterile. Who knows what nasty bacteria it might run into in the real world?

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OPTI® eSTORIES is a place for eyes, of course - a forum for sharing tips and stories, for offering new vision and perspective, for discussing lifestyle and image, all through the window of our eyes. More than that, though, OPTI® is about celebrating the beauty within all of us, and the way our eyes can be just as unique as we are. Fun and feisty, elegant and soulful. It's all here. It's all OPTI®.

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