A report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that improper contact lens care and use can lead to keratitis, an infection of the cornea. Published in the Nov. 14 CDC journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the paper estimates that each year Americans make nearly a million doctor visits for this potentially serious infection.
Keratitis is caused by a variety of bacteria, fungi and other germs. Symptoms of the condition include redness, discharge from the eye, and pain or irritation of the eye. Although most cases of keratitis can be successfully treated if caught early, in extreme cases it can result in blindness if left unattended.
“Contact lenses can provide many benefits, but they are not risk free—especially if contact lens wearers take shortcuts and don’t take care of their contact lenses and supplies,” study co-author Jennifer Cope, MD, MPH, a medical epidemiologist at the CDC, said in a news conference.
The report points to such bad habits as sleeping with contact lenses in, failing to clean and replace lens solution frequently, forgetting to clean contact lens cases, and getting lenses wet while swimming or in the shower as risk factors for contamination and the potential for infection. According to Cope, people who wear their contacts overnight are more than 20 times more likely to get keratitis.
To minimize the risk of keratitis, the CDC recommends washing your hands and drying them well before handling your lenses; removing your lenses before sleeping, showering or swimming; and rubbing and rinsing lenses in disinfecting solution each time you remove them.
Care of your contact lens case should include rubbing and rinsing it with contact lens solution and drying it with a clean tissue after each use. The case should then be stored upside down with the caps off. Never add to the solution in the lens case. Instead, fill with new solution before storing your lenses. The CDC also recommends replacing your case every three months.
“Contact lenses offer wearers good sight without the hassle of glasses, but they can also make wearers more prone to infection if they’re not careful,” Cope said in a CDC news release. “Users should follow good hygiene and care steps every time they wear, clean and store their contacts to help keep their eyes healthy.”
The study authors urge anyone who has symptoms of keratitis that do not improve on their own or after using antibiotic drops to see an ophthalmologist for further evaluation.