Your contact lenses may be harming your eyes

Your contact lenses may be harming your eyes

Wearing contact lenses is altering your natural bacteria, according to a recent study.  

Like other sites on our bodies, such as skin, eyeballs contain bacterial colonies that are affected by the choices we make. Researchers suggest that wearing contacts may be one of those bacteria-altering decisions.

Expanding on previous data, a team from the New York University School of Medicine analyzed 58 participants, some with contact lenses and some without. The bacterial inhabitants on the eyeball were determined by swabbing eyeball surfaces, the skin surrounding the eye and contact lenses from wearers. Unlike non-contact lens wearing individuals, those with lenses had similar bacteria on their eyeball and on their skin, which suggests that contact lenses change the eye surface bacteria, becoming more skin-like.

“The study addresses an important issue that I deal with frequently in my clinical practice, namely contact lens-related infections,” says Dr. Roshni Vasaiwala, an ophthalmologist at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill. “When seeing patients who wear contact lenses or express an interest in wearing them, I devote a lot of time to discussing the importance of contact lens hygiene.”

“It is interesting that this study found contact lens wearers to have an increased prevalence of skin bacteria, including Pseudomonas, a classic and potentially sight-threatening pathogen in contact lens-related corneal ulcers,” she says.

Dr. Vasaiwala says further studies are needed to determine if and how these changes in bacterial flora relate to increased eye infections in contact lens wearers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that one in 500 contact lens wearers will develop a vision-threatening eye infection, most likely due to the fact that 40 to 90 percent of individuals report not practicing proper hand hygiene.

If you are one in more than 30 million contact lens wearing Americans, consider the following tips:

  • Be sure to properly wash your hands before handling contact lenses.
  • Keep your contacts clean—never place them in used solution. This is like soaking them in their own dirty bath water.
  • Avoid sleeping in your lenses as much as possible. When you do this, you are depriving your corneas of oxygen, since you aren’t blinking while sleeping and exposing the eye to oxygen.
  • Replace your contacts as directed by your physician.
  • If a lens becomes torn or scratched, change it immediately to avoid damage to the eye.
  • Visit an ophthalmologist regularly.

“Limited wearing time; cleaning and storing lenses properly; removal of lenses before sleeping; and the avoidance of water exposure to eyes when wearing contacts are paramount to preventing contact lens-related eye infections,” Dr. Vasaiwala says.

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About the Author

Holly Brenza
Holly Brenza

Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator on the content team at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.