Around 41 million adults wear contact lenses, and almost all of them are doing something wrong that could potentially damage their eyes.
That sober finding comes courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recently warned that more than 99 percent of surveyed adults who use contact lenses report engaging in at least one risky behavior.
A CDC survey found that:
- 3 percent keep their contact lens cases for longer than recommended
- 1 percent top off the solution in their lens case instead of emptying the case and adding new solution
- 2 percent wear their lenses while sleeping
All of these behaviors can damage the eyes. In fact, one-third of adults who wear contact lenses have made visits to a doctor due to redness or pain in their eyes, according to the CDC.
Dr. Janet Leasher, associate professor of optometry and director of community outreach at Nova Southeastern University College of Optometry in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, says the CDC findings "are of serious concern."
She adds that they should serve as a reminder that contact lenses are medical devices that must be properly prescribed, fit to the patient and monitored.
"Everyone has different eye health needs," she says. "What works for one person may not work for another."
Bad behaviors that endanger your eyes
Dr. Andrea Janoff, associate professor of optometry and chief of cornea and contact lens service at The Eye Care Institute at Nova Southeastern University, says that patients who are not careful about how they wear and care for contact lenses can damage their eye health.
"Potential consequences range from mild inflammation to severe infection with vision loss," she says.
Poor lens care is a big source of problems, Janoff says. Examples include:
- "Topping off solution" in the contact lens case rather than using fresh solution
- Placing lenses into the contact lens case overnight without first rubbing and rinsing the lenses
- Not replacing lenses as often as recommended (daily, biweekly or monthly)
- Not replacing the lens case every one to three months
Other bad behaviors include sleeping with lenses approved for daily wear only, and sharing lenses with a friend. Janoff notes that this latter offense is more common among younger patients who wear colored lenses.
Most patients surprised
Leasher says her experience indicates that most patients who wear contact lenses and later have eye infections are surprised that their poor habits are the source of trouble.
She says many patients simply assume they are doing a good job wearing and caring for their lenses.
"People often (think) that that nothing like that will ever happen to them," she says.
The CDC results show that such confidence is misplaced. Leasher says it is important that people who wear contact lenses schedule an annual evaluation with an optometrist or ophthalmologist.
"Eyes change over time," she says. "The same lens, lens care or wearing schedule that worked previously might not be the best for their eye health now."
Annual visits to doctors can help patients nip any bad habits in the bud so they can be corrected before they cause a problem, Leasher says.
Janoff agrees, adding that patients should take other self-care measures to protect their eyes.
These include wearing sunglasses over their contact lenses when outside, and keeping a pair of glasses with them at all times so they can remove lenses if eyes become red or irritated.