It is estimated that over 24 million Americans wear contact lenses; however, hundreds of these individuals contract eye infections daily by not following their eye care professionals or lens manufacturers’ recommendations regarding hygiene and care. While the act of cleaning and storing your contacts properly are key to good eye health, sometimes contact lens wearers skip these and other important steps, and in doing so, risk the possibility of an eye infection.
Leading Causes of Eye Infections from Contacts:
- Improper cleaning and care of contact lenses
- Wearing lenses past their expiration date
- Suffering dry eye and reduced tearing from soft contact lenses
- Environment elements
Common Types of Eye Infections
- Keratitis Eye Infections
Keratitis infection is the medical term used when a person contracts an infection of the cornea through contact lens. Keratitis infections can be caused by a variety of factors including exposure to fungus, bacteria, microbes, and, in rarer case, herpes. If left untreated, this serious infection can lead to impaired vision or even cornea scarring. It is very important to note that the chances of this happening are unlikely and greatly diminished if you take proper care of your contacts.
- Dry Eye Infections
Though it’s fairly rare, soft contact lenses can sometimes cause dry eye in patients, often dependent upon factors unique to the individual, including age and the shape of their cornea. When dry eye syndrome overstimulates the wearer’s tear production, the excess in moisture can lead to an eye condition called keratoconjunctivitis sicca. If left untreated, this type of infection can damage eye tissue and potentially scar the cornea.
- Pink Eye
Environmental elements can also lead to eye infections in contact lens wearers. Pink Eye, also known as Conjunctivitis, is one of these infections. There are three types of conjunctivitis possible to contract, either caused by allergies, bacteria, or a virus. The strain contact lens wearers can experience is caused by an allergy to contact lenses; a form of pink eye called Giant Induced Papillary Conjunctivitis. As this condition can eventually lead to corneal ulcers and other complications, eye doctors will prescribe a topical steroid for treatment.
A Note About Extended Wear Contact Lenses
When first introduced, extended wear lenses were approved by the FDA to be worn a maximum of two weeks. However, many patients who slept in their contacts began to complain of infections; which is one of the reasons older brands of extended wear contacts were a concern for eye doctors.
The fear was that bacteria and other microbes would adhere to the contact lens while sleepy eyelids were closed. Today’s newer lines, like Air Optix Night & Day Aqua, are made from a silicone hydrogel material and allow more oxygen to pass through the lens. However, regardless of these improvements, wearing contact lenses while sleeping still poses a risk and can lead to eye infections, which is why doctors still recommend removing your lenses on a regular basis.
Best Practices for Taking Care of Your Lenses
While most of us who wear contact lenses know the guidelines set by our eye doctors, it never hurts to review the proper procedures recommended to stave off any possibility of contracting an eye infection.
- Before touching your contact lenses, thoroughly wash your hands and fingers.
- Never use tap water to rinse your contacts or your contact case; only use contact saline solution for these purposes. Furthermore, never use water to lubricate the lens, as this should only be done with specified drops.
- Remove your contacts before swimming or getting in a hot tub.
- Replace your contact case about every three months. Throw away a case that is damaged or cracked. For an alternative, consider daily lens like Acuvue 1-Day Moist.
- Never add more solution to your case without dumping out the previous batch and rinsing it out. Failure to do so can affect the sterility of the solution, which can lead to an eye infection.
- Wear and replace your contacts according to the schedule prescribed by your doctor; if you prefer ones that rarely have to be swapped out, consider lines like the Air Optix Aqua that can last up to a full month before being tossed.
- As contact lens prescriptions expire on an annual basis, see your eye doctor every year to make sure your eye prescription is up to date.
- Avoid smoke; research shows that contact lens wearers who smoke have a higher incidence rate of eye infection.