Ninety-nine percent of the 41 million Americans who wear contact lenses wear, wash, or store their lenses in an unhygienic manner.1 These individuals risk eye infections that can cause irritation, dry eye, a scratched cornea, contact lens intolerance, and even loss of vision.
What Is Contact Lens Health Week?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with its partners created Contact Lens Health Week—to be held this year on August 22-26—to bring awareness to the risk of eye infection associated with improper care of contact lenses.2 The key messages for this year are:
- Healthy contact lens hygiene habits
- Proper use, care, and storage of contact lens and supplies
- Regular visits to an eye care provider
What Am I Doing Wrong?
Fifty to 87 percent of contact lens wearers sleep or nap in their contacts, 50 percent fail to replace their contacts at all, 82 percent fail to replace their contacts as recommended by their eye doctor, and 55 percent keep the old solution and just top it off instead of replacing it.1 Not washing your hands before inserting or removing lenses and swimming or showering without removing lenses are other ways you could be introducing harmful bacteria into your eyes.
Many contact lenses on the market are approved by the Food and Drug Administration for overnight wear. However, the American Academy of Ophthalmology warns that this behavior can cause serious and, in some cases, irreversible damage.3 These types of lenses reinforce bad habits because wearers continuously wear them overnight or forget to take them out for days at a time.
How Do Contact Lenses Introduce Bacteria Into My Eye?
Contact lenses cause complications because they operate as oxygen barriers to the eye. Your eyes need a constant supply of oxygen both to function normally and to remain completely transparent.4 Long-term, chronic low oxygen to the cornea increases bacterial adherence to the lens, causing bacterial infections of the eye. Current research is looking at how to create soft and rigid contact lenses that improve oxygen transmission through the lens and to the eye.
How Should I Care for My Lenses?
It is best to stay away from overnight lenses and to stick with daily lenses (throwing out after one use) or monthly lenses (throwing out after one month).
- Properly wash and dry your hands before inserting or removing contact lenses. Don’t ever sleep in your contact lenses unless your doctor has prescribed lenses specifically designed for this sort of use. Also, don’t ever sleep, shower, or swim in your lenses.
- Rub and rinse your contacts with fresh solution each time! Replace your case every three months. And never store your lenses in water.
- Visit your ophthalmologist at least once a year, or more often if you have preexisting eye conditions. Ask questions about how to clean and care for your lenses.
If you ever experience redness, pain, or blurred vision, immediately remove your contact lenses and contact your doctor. You only have one pair of eyes!
1 Cope JR, Collier SA, Rao MM, et al. Contact lens wearer demographics and risk behaviors for contact lens-related eye infections—United States, 2014. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2015; 64(32):865-870. Accessed May 11, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6432a2.htm.
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Contact Lens Health Week. Accessed May 11, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/contactlenses/contact-lens-health-week.html.
3 Storrs C. Sleeping with contact lenses could lead to vision loss. CNN; August 21, 2015. Accessed May 11, 2016, from http://edition.cnn.com/2015/08/21/health/contact-lenses-eye-infections/index.html.