Here’s some eye-catching news: Americans make nearly a million yearly doctor visits for inflamed corneas and other contact lens-related eye infections, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In severe cases, these conditions can be blinding.
This study may even underestimate the problem, says study author Jennifer Cope, M.D., M.P.H., because the researchers counted visits to doctor’s offices and emergency rooms, but not to optometrists. “Those are visits that aren’t really being captured—at least in the data we’re looking at—so it’s very likely that there’s a lot more that’s out there,” she says.
If you don’t clean your contacts properly, bacteria, fungi such as Fusarium, amebae such as Acanthamoeba, and viruses can grow on the lenses. Sometimes bacteria even mix with water to form a germ-protecting biofilm that makes contacts especially hard to disinfect. These microbes can then infect your eyes.
The problem is, you might forget that contacts are germ magnets when popping them in is as routine as pouring your morning cup of coffee. “It’s very easy in our really busy lives to take shortcuts and not take it as seriously that they are medical devices and foreign objects that we’re putting in our eyes, and that they really should be cared for properly in order to prevent some of these complications that can develop,” says Dr. Cope.
She points out a few ways to do better.
Replace your lenses as directed.
A lot of people take shortcuts and try to stretch daily lenses to 2 days, 2-week lenses to 3, and so on, says Dr. Cope. Again, that’s like inviting bacteria into your peepers.
Wash your contact case daily and swap it every 3 months.
“I think a lot of people have this idea that if it’s not damaged, or it still works, that you can continue to use it forever, but it actually should be replaced every 3 months,” says Dr. Cope. Otherwise, say hello to biofilm.
Keep backup glasses in your gym bag, your desk at work, your glove compartment . . .
That way, if you accidentally doze off, hit the shower or pool, or do something else you shouldn’t in contacts, you can pop them out immediately and don your frames. “As soon as you’re able to remove your contacts, give them a good cleaning with the recommended disinfectant solution, and a good soak in the case that’s also been properly cleaned and replaced,” says Dr. Cope.
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