Should You Reconsider Your Contact Lens Use?

New research has highlighted the extent to which many people are using their contact lenses incorrectly – increasing the risk of eye infections and further, more damaging complications. Here, The Tej Kohli Cornea Institute explores some of the risks contact users put themselves and their eyes at, as well as ways of preventing them.

A brief history of contact lenses

The concept for a lens to correct or enhance vision dates back as far as Leonardo d Vinci, but the modern contact lens as we know it today is only several decades old. Despite that, their use has risen dramatically during this time, with over 780 million lenses sold in the UK and Ireland during 2016 alone.

The problem is that despite this low success rate, eyes from the 80 plus age bracket make up over 40% of all donations in India. Despite these being far more likely to be rejected or unusable, India’s eye donation campaign runs a policy of turning no donation away. The result of this is a disproportionate number of unsuitable donations, with only an average of 35% of eyeballs donated being used for sight restoration procedures.

Generally, they’re safe and effective when used properly. However, problems can arise when they are used incorrectly.

The dangers of incorrect lens use

Now, a new report by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention has highlighted the serious and lasting damage to a person’s eyesight that failure to use lenses correctly can cause.

Studying 1,075 reports of infections related to contact lenses, the report found that roughly 20% of the infections included severe corneal damage. One in five of the infections had led to a scarred cornea or reduced vision, and in a number of cases had required a corneal transplant to reverse the damage.

The prevalence of these infections closely matched the number of people demonstrating behaviours that significantly increase the chance of getting an infection. As any statistician will tell you, correlation does not automatically equate to causation, but the findings of the recent report do back up a similar 2014 study, which suggested that a staggering 99% of users aren’t looking after their lenses correctly. In fact, each one of those 99% exhibited at least one behaviour that put them at increased risk of developing an eye infection.

Using lenses safely

Fortunately it is extremely easy to ensure that your contact lenses remain safe and hygienic. Steps as simple as ensuring your hands are washed before handling lenses and replacing your contact solution daily can all reduce the risk of infection – as can wearing your lenses for no longer than the period prescribed, and making sure that you take them out at night. Similarly it is advisable to rinse your lens case thoroughly with contact solution after each use.

None of these steps are difficult to put into practice – it will likely be a case of changing attitudes and habits rather than requiring anyone to go too far out of their way.

Why this matters

Corneal blindness is one of the most common forms in the world today, with an estimated 4.9 million people blind in both eyes. It is also one of the most treatable, with a corneal transplant success rate of around 85%. However, this success depends on the availability of donor tissue, and many people are still reluctant to donate their corneas.

With the availability of donor tissue already stretched, it is vitally important that potential cases of corneal damage are avoided before they occur, rather than being allowed to develop to the point where a transplant is necessary. In this case, prevention will play a significant part in making sure that the resources which are available are able to be used in the cases where they are needed.

For our founder Tej Kohli, every case of corneal blindness that is prevented is a step closer to his personal mission of tackling global corneal blindness by the year 2030.