New study warns of contact lens - related serious eye infections

Simple changes could save your sight


Contact lenses are worn by 41 million Americans and 99 percent of wearers do something that could cause an eye infection. Studies show most people don't think twice before sleeping in lenses, reusing contact solution or even swimming in their contacts.  But a new study shows you should think, because many of those infections are serious.

One in five contact lens - related eye infections result in serious damage like scarred corneas, reduced vision or the need for corneal transplant. Local writer Chris Brewer almost lost his sight.

"I like to think I'm not a wimpy guy but it was like a 10 out of 10 on the pain scale. I've never experienced anything like," says Brewer.

Brewer has worn glasses since he was nine years old and he got his first pair of contacts at 12. It wasn't until last August that he had his first scare that was beyond eye opening.

"Sent me to the emergency room and I went to another doctor and they said you're probably going to lose your vision and your eyes," says Brewer.

Earlier in the day, Brewer's eyes were already irritated and he didn't take out his lenses and then made a big mistake.  He went to a water park and jumped in the water wearing his contacts.  Dr. Ravi Patel at Florida Eye Specialists likely saved his sight.

"Most likely he had a scratch on his eye and he put his contact lens in and then he went swimming and that really irritated his eye and got the infection in his eye," says Patel.

 It wasn't just any infection. It was a corneal ulcer and it was serious.

"Within an hour  I was in such horrible pain that I couldn't believe it and within another hour I had a white spot on my eye," says Brewer.

A Centers for Disease Control study looked at 1,100 cases of eye infections from 2005-2015.  One in five patients had serious eye injuries, and more than ten percent had to go to the emergency room.  One out of four infections were linked to easily preventable risk factors,  like wearing contacts too long or while you sleep, not changing out solution, or swimming in your contacts.  

"I think people just overlook it but when you do get a serious infection or a problem that's when you really start to change your habits and realize, wow I've been putting myself at risk for so long I just got lucky," says Patel.

Patel says sometimes your contacts can mask the pain and that can just make a problem worse.

"Patients will say that's why I kept putting my contacts lens in because it felt better. They don't  understanding that that's what could have led to an infection or a serious threatening event for their eye," says Patel.

Brewer learned the hard way, and he's clearly motivated.

"It's become a habit, a good habit. You can have good habits and you can have bad ones. This is becoming a habit. I'm constantly taking care of my eyes, constantly doing the right thing that could have prevented this whole mess," says Brewer.

Patel says if you feel irritation in your eye and it doesn't resolve in a day that it's time to call your doctor.

About the Author: