Americans make nearly a million doctor’s appointments and emergency-room visits per year for eye infections, most of them aresult of improper use and care of contact lenses.
“People who wear contact lenses overnight are more than 20 times more likely to get keratitis,” said Jennifer Cope, a medical epidemiologist at the CDC. “Wearing contacts and not taking care of them properly is the single biggest risk factor for keratitis.”
Keratitis is an infection that occurs when bacteria invade the cornea, the clear dome that covers the colored part of the eye. The infection can cause pain, inflammation and scarring of the cornea. It can also lead to blindness. Medication can treat the infection, so consult a doctor if you notice pain or inflammation.
Even some seemingly harmless behaviors can lead to infection — for example, not replacing the lenses’ case often enough. (The CDC recommends getting a new case every three months.)
And, treating infection can be expensive: The CDC estimates that the cost of a doctor’s visit for keratitis is about $151, on average; each emergency-room visit costs an average of $587. Overall in the United States, keratitis is responsible for $175 million in direct costs.
Here are some other ways you can make your bad contact lens habits a little better, according to the CDC:
• Wash your hands with soap and water and dry them well before touching contact lenses.
• Take contacts out before bed, showering or swimming.
• Rub and rinse contacts in disinfecting solution each time you remove them.
• Rub and rinse the case with contact-lens solution, dry the case with a clean tissue and store it upside down with the caps off after each use.
• Do not top off solution in the lens case; instead, pour out the old and replace it with new.
• Carry a backup pair of glasses in case your contacts have to be taken out.