Contact lenses are a great modern convenience that help us enjoy better vision without dealing with eyeglasses all the time. They have come a long way since their early days when the only option was to wear hard lenses that allowed very little oxygen to reach the eye and, therefore, could only be used for short durations. Nowadays, we have extended wear and disposable contacts, so as long as we squirt them with contact solution and don’t sleep in them regularly we’ll be fine, right? Not so much, unfortunately. According to new research, our bad hygiene habits with contact lenses may be the cause of a multitude of eye infections every year.
The study, which was conducted by scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, found that there are nearly a million cases of a potentially serious eye infection known as keratitis that may be the result of wearing contact lenses that have not been cleaned properly.1 Fox, Maggie. “Don’t Lick and Stick: Dirty Contacts Linked to Serious Eye Infections.” NBC News. 13 November 2014. Accessed 16 November 2014. http://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/dont-lick-stick-dirty-contacts-linked-serious-eye-infections-n248106 The findings were based on data obtained from walk-in clinics and emergency health care facilities throughout the United States during 2010.
In that one year alone, the researchers discovered approximately 930,000 diagnoses of keratitis. This condition is brought on by bacteria, viruses, and assorted fungi, and results in inflammation and redness around the cornea at the front of the eye. What’s more, the statistics that the scientists arrived at likely underrepresent the problem significantly. That’s because the types of medical settings they included in the data only cover a portion of the places to which a person with an eye infection might go seeking help. In addition to a walk-in clinic or emergency facility, individuals experiencing eye pain and blurry vision might very well see their ophthalmologist, optometrist, or even a primary care physician. Figures from visits to any of these professionals that led to a diagnosis of keratitis were not included in the study and likely raise the numbers quite a bit higher.
But using the data that we have, among the more than 900,000 cases of keratitis that were found, the greatest problems appear to arise with the use of extended wear lenses. These contacts, designed to be safe for use overnight–and sometimes for a week at a time or longer–were the cause of 20 cases of keratitis per 10,000 users of this variety of lens. That is probably because the wearers often feel more comfortable leaving these contacts in for several days without cleaning them, leading to a build-up of organisms in the moist environment between the lens and the surface of the eye.
In contrast, the data showed that soft lenses that are meant to be removed every night produced only five cases per 10,000 users, and hard lenses meant to be removed every night produced four per 10,000 users. So while those contact lenses are not risk-free and certainly require sufficient daily cleaning, they only result in one-quarter and one-fifth, respectively, of the infections produced by the extended-wear contacts.
Keratitis may not be dangerous in most cases, but if left untreated it can lead to long-term vision problems or blindness. And even if you have a mild case, the infection causes pain, vision issues, and sensitivity that are much better avoided. Plus, the standard treatment for keratitis is prescription antibiotics. Regular readers of this website are familiar with the problems these pharmaceuticals can precipitate, from stomach upset to allergic reactions. And in some cases, antibiotics are prescribed, but the infection is viral or fungal in nature, which results in a worsening of the condition until the treatment is changed.
Therefore, a few preventative steps are certainly better and easier to take than dealing with clearing up a keratitis infection. If you are a contact lens wearer, be responsible about how you handle them. Take them out every night, even if you have extended-wear lenses. Wash your hands with soap and water before handling the lenses, and always use fresh solution for cleaning and storage. And finally, living a healthy lifestyle such as taking the Baseline of Health approach can build up your immune system and help you fight off any pathogens to which you are exposed.
|↑1||Fox, Maggie. “Don’t Lick and Stick: Dirty Contacts Linked to Serious Eye Infections.” NBC News. 13 November 2014. Accessed 16 November 2014. http://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/dont-lick-stick-dirty-contacts-linked-serious-eye-infections-n248106|