Contact Lens Hygiene ‘Dust Up,’ CDC Warns Users Are Highly At Risk

Many of the 41 million Americans who wear contact lenses have their daily routine down pat, but a new study shows that almost everyone is doing at least one thing wrong, and it may cost them more than just the price of a new pair. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued its report on Thursday and says contact lens wearers are continuously putting themselves at great risk of eye infections.

The numbers reported by the CDC are quite alarming actually, with about 99 percent of users at risk. Nearly a third of those studied say they have gone to the doctor previously because of red or painful eyes. Sleeping or napping while still wearing contacts is a habit about 81 percent perpetuate, while the same amount failed to use clean solutions and just topped it off instead. Then there was the reported 61 percent of persons who went swimming in their lenses although they were warned about the lenses coming into contact with water. Bear in mind these are all adults and teenagers are highly likely to have a greater percentage of failing in these key hygiene points. The nationwide survey consisted of about a 1,000 contact lens wearers aged 18 and over.

As if swimming in the lenses was not bad enough, more than a third of the surveyed reported they had simply used tap water to rinse the lenses instead of sterile, disinfecting solution. The report states that that’s truly risky.

“Household tap water, although treated to be safe for drinking, is not sterile and contains microorganisms that can contaminate lens cases and contact lenses and cause eye infections.”

The CDC showed that persons were also overtaxing the contact lenses and the cases. For most, if the lens was to be used for two weeks, they kept it for four or six weeks while. If it was for a month, they often kept it for two months instead, which makes the lenses far more susceptible to germs. Of course, many go way beyond that time and have even more serious consequences.

Placing a foreign object in the eye every day is far less dangerous if persons would only heed the warnings. Unfortunately, CDC medical epidemiologist Jennifer Cope, M.D., M.P.H. states that it seems many users actually are not aware of just how to properly care for and wear their contact lenses. Dr. Carla Zadnik, dean of Ohio State’s College of Optometry, offered some insight as to why people tend to disregard the care instructions.

“I think people forget they’re a medical device… They just kind of become part of our routine thing.”

The short-term savings made by cutting corners and keeping contact lenses and cases longer than prescribed is nothing compared to the long-term costs when health problems occur as a result of the unhygienic practices. According to the CDC report, every year the United States has about one million health-care visits for inflammation of the cornea or other contact-related complications. The total costs associated with the visits round out to approximately $175 million.

More recommendations were issued by the CDC in the report with the aim to reduce the risks of irritations and infections for contact lens wearers. Hands must always be thoroughly washed and dried before handling contacts, never sleep in contact lenses unless given permission by a healthcare specialist, and contacts should always be removed prior to showering or swimming. In addition, follow instructions provided by manufacturers and eye care providers and change lenses and solutions often. The cases should also be replaced at least once every three months and stored upside down with the caps off after each use.

Frequent visits should be made to your eye care provider, and if any eye pain, discomfort, redness, or blurred vision is experienced, contact lenses should be removed immediately and an eye care specialist contacted.

[Photo Courtesy of BSIP/ Getty Images]