If you’ve worn contact lenses, you know how easy it can be to let things slip a little. Maybe you don’t wash and dry the case every day. Or you try to eke a bit more wear out of a pair.
Well, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is on to you, and it has a message: Stop it.
Improper contact lens care and use is the major risk factor for infections of the cornea, the clear covering of the eye, and those send people to the doctor or emergency room almost 1 million times a year, according to a CDC study published Thursday in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. It’s the first national look at the issue.
This new study makes it obvious that we as eye doctors have greatly underestimated the risk and cost of corneal ulcers. I was surprised by the number of people are afflicted with corneal ulcers and the cost of treatment; nearly $175 million a year. Most infections can be treated with antibiotics, but in some cases they can cause permanent eye damage or blindness.
Contact lens wearers need to understand that this is a medical device. It needs to be treated with respect.
In a 2011 survey of more than 400 contact lens wearers, researches found that just 2 percent of them are following the rules for safe contact lens use. Chief among the sins is swimming while wearing contacts, sleeping in them and using them longer than recommended before throwing them out.
People also commit “solution misuse,” topping off the disinfectant solution in the case rather than starting afresh, and 47 percent of the people asked said they never replace their lens case, or only do so when the eye doctor gives them a new one at the annual visit. The research was published in the December 2011 issue of Optometry and Vision Science.
A separate survey in the UK found that people have turned to beer, baby oil, Coke, petroleum jelly, lemonade, fruit juice, and butter as alternatives to contact lens solution.
Good care includes cleaning and disinfecting lenses every day, cleaning the case and changing the solution every day, and washing hands before touching lenses. Change the case each time you buy a new bottle of solution.
Sleeping in lenses is particularly bad for the cornea, because lenses reduce oxygen flow to the eye. Even well-cared-for lenses need to be thrown out after a few weeks. As a lens ages, it becomes less breathable which further increases the risk of getting a corneal ulcer.
Most people with contacts don’t even have a backup pair of glasses. If your lens falls on the floor what are you going to do? You’ve got to have a backup plan.
Keep your eyes safe!