Millions of people in the United States wear contact lenses, but many of them are guilty of not taking proper care of their contact lenses. Each year, thousands of people develop an eye infection from using contacts and those infections can easily damage the eye or cause severe vision problems if left untreated. If you or someone you know wears contact lenses, read on to find out how they can lead to an eye infection and how to prevent this from happening.
Keratitis From Improper Care
Contact lenses and storage cases need to be cleaned and cleaned often. If they aren’t, bacteria, fungi and microbes can contaminate them and cause an infection of the cornea known as keratitis. Keratitis is considered to be the most serious complication that can affect contact lens wearers because it can lead to loss of eyesight and permanent eye damage. There are many different types of keratitis, but the ones that are specifically caused by contact lenses are:
- Bacterial keratitis – Pseudomonas Aeruginosa and Staphylococcus Aureus are the bacteria that are to blame for this infection. The former is the particular cause of infection in contact lens wearers. Symptoms of this infection include eye pain, reduced vision and light sensitivity. If left untreated, bacterial keratitis can cause blindness.
- Fungal keratitis – This infection is caused by a fungus called Fusarium and is associated with the same symptoms as bacterial keratitis. This infection develops quickly and can also lead to blindness if untreated.
- Amoebic keratitis – This type of keratitis is caused by an amoeba known as Acanthamoeba. Those who wear contacts have a greater risk of developing this infection, which causes pain, redness and the sensation of something being in the eye. This, too, can cause blindness and severe pain if left untreated.
Keratitis can also develop in one of two forms: superficial or deep. Superficial keratitis only affects the outermost layers of the cornea and won’t leave a scar behind. However, deep keratitis affects the inner layers of the cornea as well and usually leaves a scar, which can affect your vision.
To treat these infections, a doctor may prescribe oral medications, eye drops or a topical steroid cream. In more severe cases, a corneal transplant may be needed. For more information on other problems caused by improper care of contact lenses, see Dangers Of Contact Lenses From Improper Care.
How To Clean Your Contacts
It doesn’t take much to contaminate a contact lens. By not washing your hands before touching the lenses, you can easily pass germs and bacteria onto the lenses and into your eyes. Of course, by not washing the lenses or the lens case on a regular basis, you can also transfer bacteria and microbes to your eyes. To prevent this, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends using the “rub and rinse method,” which is similar to washing your hands. Here are the steps:
- Place the lens on the palm of your hand and pour some contact lens solution onto the lens.
- Using your index finger, rub the solution onto the lens for five to 10 seconds.
- Turn the lens over and repeat the first two steps.
- Spray a strong stream of solution onto both sides of the lens to remove any debris as well as bacteria and germs.
The rub and rinse method should be used each time you remove your lenses. But cleaning your contacts isn’t enough. The storage case should be microwaved or boiled often to remove any hidden bacteria and it should be replaced regularly with a new case. In addition, the solution needs to be changed after every use. Solution that isn’t changed at least once a day is considered to be dirty.
The Do’s And Don’ts Of Contact Lenses
Aside from keeping your hands and lenses clean, here are some other dos and don’ts to keep in mind when wearing contacts:
- Do remove your contacts if any eye trauma occurs or if any symptoms develop. Remember the acronym RSVP, which stands for redness, sudden vision loss and pain. If you notice any of those symptoms, remove your contacts immediately.
- Do remove daily-wear contact lenses at night and do remove extended-wear lenses on a regular basis.
- Do throw away solutions that have expired.
- Do make regular visits to the optometrist and other eye care professionals.
- Don’t patch your eye or attempt to treat your eye if you think you may have an infection. Seek immediate medical attention instead.
- Don’t continue to smoke. Studies show that smoking can increase the risk for developing an eye infection.
- Don’t moisten contact lenses with water or any non-sterile solution before wearing them.
- Don’t swim or bathe with your lenses in.
- Don’t trade or borrow lenses from somebody else because the AIDS virus and hepatitis C and B can be found in tears.
It’s also important to schedule regular check-ups with your optometrist so that he or she can refit your contact lenses and provide you with new ones when needed. The more you take care of your lenses, the less of chance you’ll have of developing an infection.