Emphasize handwashing and other healthy habits for contact lens wearers
October 15 is Global Handwashing Day, dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding about the importance of handwashing with soap as an effective and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives.
And when it comes to the health of contact lens wearers, doctors of optometry have an important role to play in advocating for proper use and care of lenses, starting with handwashing.
Nearly 41 million adults in the U.S., or about one in 10, wear contact lenses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But AOA's 2015 American Eye-Q® consumer survey found that only 67% of respondents wash their hands with soap and water before handling lenses.
Thomas Quinn, O.D., immediate past chair of the AOA Contact Lens & Cornea Section (CLCS), highlights six of the most common mistakes—including neglected handwashing—made by contact lens patients.
6 bad habits of contact lens wearers
- Caught dirty-handed. The cleanest, daily disposable lenses are all for naught if wearers do not wash their hands before handling their lenses . Dr. Quinn recalls a teenage patient with daily disposable lenses who persistently would be treated for corneal infiltrative events (CIEs). He learned the teen's hands were never washed before handling lenses.
- Damp digits. The flip side of the coin: Even when patients do think to wash their hands, sometimes they forget to dry their hands before handling their lenses. Water can harbor harmful microorganisms that can be transferred onto the lens and subsequently onto the eye if wearers fail to dry their hands with a clean surface.
- Overstayed welcome. Studies have indicated around half of disposable and frequent replacement-lens users wear lenses longer than their recommended schedule. What barometer do patients use to change their lenses? They wait until the lenses become bothersome. "That's like saying, 'I'm going to wear my underwear until they start to bother me,'" Dr. Quinn says. "No, you change them before they start to bother you."
- No respect for the system. Not all contact lens care systems are created equal, in terms of disinfection, and chemical sensitivities and incompatibilities with lens materials. Patients might opt for a cheaper, generic solution as opposed to the care system specifically designed for their lenses. "The cheapest solution isn't always the best solution," Dr. Quinn says.
- A case of grimy cases. Proper contact lens care extends to storage cases, as well. The AOA recommends wearers replace lens cases at least every three months, and cases should be cleaned and disinfected periodically in between. But Dr. Quinn says that information tends to be lost on patients, and it's up to doctors of optometry to change that.
- Dozing dangers. And finally, people snoozing in contact lenses that are not designed to be slept in are at a five times higher risk of developing CIEs, according to some studies. Even extended-wear lenses carry some risk of infection as compared to daily wear lenses.
Dr. Quinn urges the importance of continued education for patients, but also highlights the benefits of daily disposable lenses as a way to eliminate several of these bad habits.
"All these bad habits are due to a lack of understanding on the part of patients," he says.
This Contact Lens Health Week, Aug. 21-25, consider broadening the conversation about contact lenses beyond your patients and into your community to bring awareness about safe, healthy wear and care.