A 57-year-old went to the ER with lousy vision and pain in his eye, but the culprit wasn’t hard to find: He’d been wearing the same contact lenses for two weeks and slept in them regularly.
Doctors said the inflammation on his eyes was keratitis — a bacterial infection — and while the left one responded to medicated drops, his right eye needed a corneal transplant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.
The cautionary tale is tucked into an agency report that says far too many of the 45 million Americans who wear contact lenses ignore basic safety tips, exposing themselves to infections, surgeries and vision loss.
One-third of wearers reported sleeping or napping in their contacts. The CDC wants them to stop because they are increasing their risk of infection by six- to eightfold.
Other wearers fail to swap out lenses as required, fail to disinfect them on a regular basis or go swimming in them — exposing their eyes to keratitis and a long road to recovery.
People who acquire contacts without a prescription also are asking for trouble, according to the CDC report, which highlighted the use of decorative lenses that alter eye color but do not improve vision.
Researchers tracked an 18-year-old who wore store-bought lenses for cosmetic reasons for a year, slept in them and developed pain, redness and light sensitivity. His infection responded to antibiotic drops, though his eyes still suffered from scarring.
He was among six case studies described in the CDC report. Two of the people required surgery, and almost all of the subjects experienced damage or vision loss that will last their entire lives.
“Contact lens wearers are younger on average than nonwearers and bear a burden of disease despite being viewed as healthy,” the report said.
Besides health problems, poor habits can result in financial pain because infections can result in costly trips to the emergency room.
The CDC said contact prescriptions are typically valid for one to two years, so users should use renewal checkups to brush up on safe lens wear.
The agency issued the report to set the stage for the fifth annual Contact Lens Health Week, from Monday through Aug. 24.
Elsewhere, the American Academy of Ophthalmology issued its own August tip sheet, bluntly titled “Contact Lens Care: You’re probably doing it wrong.”
It said wearers should wash their hands before touching their lenses and replace their disinfecting solution completely instead of just “topping” off the container with fresh solution.
The academy said lenses aren’t costume jewelry so should be fitted by a professional.
“Most don’t think of contact lenses as a medical device,” said Thomas Steinemann, the academy’s clinical spokesman. “But poor habits are a potential gateway for serious eye infections that can cause impaired vision or even blindness.”