A new outbreak of a rare but preventable eye infection that can cause blindness, has been identified in contact lens wearers says a new study led by UCL and Moorfields Eye Hospital researchers. This increase in cases highlights the need for contact lens users to be aware of the risks.
Acanthamoeba keratitis is an eye disease that causes the front surface of the eye, the cornea, to become painful and inflamed, due to infection by Acanthamoeba, a cyst-forming microorganism. Reusable contact lens wearers with the eye infection are more likely to have used an ineffective contact lens solution, have contaminated their lenses with water or reported poor contact lens hygiene.
The most severely affected patients which is a quarter of the total, have less than 25% of vision or become blind following the disease and face prolonged treatment. Overall, 25% of people affected require corneal transplants to treat the disease or restore vision.
Anyone can be infected, but contact lens users face the highest risk, due to a combination of increased susceptibility to infection, for reasons not fully established, as a result of contact lens wear and contamination.
The risk of developing the disease was more than three times greater amongst people with poor contact lens hygiene, people who did not always wash and dry their hands before handling their lenses, those who used a lens disinfectant product containing Oxipol (now phased out by the manufacturer), and for people who wore their contacts while in swimming pools or hot tubs. Showering and face washing while wearing contact lenses are also likely to be risk factors.
According to the researchers, people who wear reusable contact lenses need to make sure they thoroughly wash and dry their hands before handling contact lenses, and avoid wearing them while swimming, face washing or bathing. Daily disposable lenses, which eliminate the need for contact lens cases or solutions, may be safer and we are currently analysing our data to establish the risk factors for these.
They added that it is absolutely imperative that regulators and those working in the optical sector take the findings seriously, and use the recommendations to take immediate and urgent action on prevention. Contact lenses are medical devices and should be supplied with warnings regarding safe use.
The Side Effects of Wearing Contacts for Extended Periods
Contact lenses are an ideal replacement for eye glasses. Aside from their medical function, you can even use them to achieve a vast variety of different looks. Yet what many forget is that contact lenses are not all fun — they are objects with actual purpose and when used incorrectly, can have serious repercussions on your eyes. There are several ways wearing contact lenses can go wrong, but one of the most harmful — and common — is wearing them for longer than you should.
Here are some of the most common side effects of wearing your contacts for extended periods;
- Eye pain : Wearing your contact lenses overnight or taking a nap with them can cause corneal abrasions or scratches on your cornea. As you can imagine, the condition is painful. This happens because the contact lenses deny the corneas hydration and oxygen.
- Blurred vision : Another offshoot of contact lens overuse is blurred vision. Instead of helping you see better, your contacts can impair your vision if you use it longer than you should. This is caused by damage to your corneas and is often accompanied by sensitivity to bright lights.
- Red eyes : This is one of the clearest indication of damage to the eyes. Factors like crying, irritation, light infections (such as conjunctivitis), and lack of sleep naturally lead to reddish eyes, but the condition is temporary and heals between minutes and days. Red-eyes caused by contact lens overuse indicate a much more severe condition and should not be taken lightly.
- Overgrowth of surrounding blood vessels : When your eyes lack oxygen because of contact lens overuse, the blood vessels surrounding the corneas try to adapt. This causes an overgrowth of blood vessels, which leads to blurred vision or in severe instances, the loss of sight. The condition does not have a symptom and can only be diagnosed by regular visits to an eye doctor.
- Eye ulcers : These open sores appear as white or grayish specks on the cornea. They occur when your eyes get infected because you used your contacts for too long or without cleaning them. They are painful and can cause blurred vision and blindness.
Contact lenses are heaven-sent for people who do not like the idea of wearing very cumbersome glasses and other eyewear. To maximize their benefits and keep their side effects to a minimum, you should see your doctor regularly and make sure to use your lenses properly.