Contact Lenses: Focus on Proper Care to Reduce Risk of Infections

The American Optometric Association reminds consumers of possible eye and vision problems resulting from the improper or illegal use of contact lenses

ST. LOUIS ( October 6, 2015 )— Today, nearly 41 million adults in the U.S. (more than one in ten people) and 125 million people worldwide wear contact lenses—a safe and popular form of vision correction. However, when patients do not use lenses as directed by an eye doctor, the consequences can be dangerous and can even damage the eyes, causing long-term problems with vision and eye health.

Clean and safe handling of contacts is one of the most important measures wearers can take to protect vision. However, the American Optometric Association's (AOA) 2015 American Eye-Q® consumer survey revealed that consumers are guilty of a number of unhealthy habits: 31 percent of Americans use rewetting drops to clean and disinfect lenses, and 16 percent soak or clean lenses in tap water, both unsafe practices.

"Contact lenses and lens care products are medical devices regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)," said Jeffrey J. Walline, O.D., Ph.D., and chair of the AOA's Contact Lens & Cornea Section. "We tell our patients who wear contact lenses that they should stay in close contact with us to make sure they're receiving appropriate and up-to-date clinical guidance based on individual eye health needs."

Many contact lens wearers will try to make their lenses last longer by waiting to change them until the lenses become bothersome, which can be dangerous to the eyes. According to the American Eye-Q® survey, 59 percent of contact lens wearers admit wearing their disposable contact lenses longer than the suggested duration. Not following an eye doctor's recommended changing schedule can cause permanent eye damage from bacterial infections and oxygen deprivation. In fact, a recently released Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study found that nearly one-third of contact lens wearers report going to the doctor for red or painful eyes related to wearing contact lenses.

The AOA recommends contact lens wearers take proper steps to maintain a consistent hygiene routine, including:

  • Washing and drying hands before handling contact lenses;
  • Carefully and regularly using cleaning solution to rub the lenses with fingers and rinsing thoroughly before soaking lenses overnight in a sufficient multi-purpose disinfectant solution;
  • Storing lenses in the proper lens storage case and replacing your case every three months; in addition cases should be rubbed with clean fingers, rinsed with solution, dried with a tissue, and stored upside down every night;
  • Using fresh solution to clean and store contact lenses-never re-use old solution;
  • Using products recommended by your eye doctor to clean and disinfect your lenses;
  • Always following the recommended contact lens replacement schedule prescribed by your eye doctor;
  • Removing contact lenses before exposing them to water; and
  • Scheduling annual contact lens and eye examinations with your eye doctor.

Decorative Contact Lenses
There is a growing trend among Americans to alter the appearance or color of the eyes by using decorative contact lenses that often times are acquired illegally through vendors that don't meet quality standards which is a concern for optometrists. Many consumers consider decorative contact lenses a fashion or costume accessory when, in reality, these lenses are also classified as medical devices and still pose the same potential safety and health issues as corrective contact lenses, and require a prescription. Eye doctors urge consumers to only wear decorative contact lenses that are acquired through an eye doctor. Illegally-purchased lenses can result in significant damage to the eye's ability to function, which could lead to irreversible sight loss.

Children and Contact Lenses
Eye doctors are frequently asked by patients and parents about the appropriate age to introduce children to contact lenses. Doctors of optometry agree that most children between the ages of 10-12 are mature enough to wear and care for contact lenses, but even some younger children are capable of independent contact lens wear, especially with daily disposable contact lenses. 

Studies in children's vision correction confirm that contacts provide additional benefits to children beyond solely correcting their vision, including significantly improving how they feel about their physical appearance and the ability to play sports without wearing glasses. When considering contact lenses for children, eye doctors recommend parents take into account the child's maturity and level of accountability to ensure they are prepared to care for and handle contact lenses.

For more information about contact lens hygiene and safety, as well as the risks associated with decorative contact lenses, please visit aoa.org.

About the American Eye-Q® survey:
The 10th annual American Eye-Q® survey was created and commissioned in conjunction with Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates (PSB).  From February 19-March 4, 2015, PSB conducted 1,000 online interviews among Americans 18 years and older who embodied a nationally representative sample of the U.S. general population. (Margin of error is plus or minus 3.10 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.)

About the American Optometric Association (AOA):
The American Optometric Association, a federation of state, student and armed forces optometric associations, was founded in 1898. Today, the AOA is proud to represent the profession of optometry, America's family eye doctors, who take a leading role in an individual's overall eye and vision care, health and well-being. Doctors of optometry (ODs) are the independent primary health care professionals for the eye and have extensive, ongoing training to examine, diagnose, treat and manage disorders, diseases and injuries that affect the eye and visual system, providing two-thirds of primary eye care in the U.S. For information on a variety of eye health and vision topics, and to find an optometrist near you, visit aoa.org