Many contact lens wearers are taking big risks with their eyes, according to a warning issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency reported a new study that shows that almost all of America’s 41 million estimated contact lens wearers have at least one habit that’s proven to increase the risk of eye infections.
Nearly a third of contact lens wearers who took part in a survey said they had been to the doctor at least once for eye pain or irritation as a result of contact lenses.
- 82 percent kept contact lens cases longer than recommended. Experts say they should be replaced at least every 3 months.
- 55 percent poured new contact lens solution into a bottle they had been using instead of completely using the solution before adding more.
- 50 percent wore contact lenses to sleep.
Each of these behaviors raises the risk of eye infections by five times or more, studies show.
Since 2006, the U.S. has seen three outbreaks of parasitic/amoebic keratitis and fungal keratitis —diseases that can cause blindness. These outbreaks spurred the CDC to work with experts in eye health and infectious disease to develop clear guidelines for contact lens hygiene.
Contact lens users aren’t solely to blame for their less-than-desirable habits. Some people haven’t been educated about proper lens use. For example, you may not know that there is no scientifically established rule for how often you lens case should be replaced. However, in the absence of a hard rule, experts recommend replacing your case whenever you purchase a bottle of solution that includes one, or every three months, whichever happens first.
You may not know that you should discuss which type of solution to use with your eye doctor. Your doctor can make a suggestion based on your personal medical history, and some types or brands of contacts require a particular solution. Finally, although several companies make contact lenses that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration to sleep in (called extended wear, continuous wear, or overnight wear), “contact lens wearers who choose this type of lens should be informed that sleeping in any type of contact lenses increases the risk of serious eye infections,” the CDC warns.
“Good vision contributes to overall well-being and independence for people of all ages, so it’s important not to cut corners on healthy contact lens wear and care,” says Jennifer Cope, MD, MPH, a CDC medical epidemiologist. “We are finding that many wearers are unclear about how to properly wear and care for contact lenses.”