Hygiene key to warding off painful contact lens mishaps

August 18, 2016
CDC report illustrates toll of lax hygiene, reinforces Contact Lens Health Week.

Corneal damage directly resulted from every 1 in 5 cases of contact lens-related infections reported to a federal database, warns a new report that primes a week-long dialogue on the issue.

Published Aug. 18 in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the report illustrates the vast toll that lax hygiene practices can have on unsuspecting contact lens wearers, further concluding that 1 in every 4 such adverse events described patients who weren't caring for lenses properly, wore them too long or while they slept.

The infections, as reported over the past decade to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) Medical Device Report Database, included patients exhibiting scarred corneas, needing corneal transplants or suffering reduced vision.

This most recent MMWR follows up on troubling trends illustrated in last year's report that 99% of surveyed contact lens wearers reported at least one unsafe hygiene behavior, while another 1 in 3 experienced a contact lens-related complication that required a doctor's visit. As highlighted by the 2015 MMWR, contact lens wearers' top 5 harmful infractions:

  1. Sleeping or napping in contact lenses (87.1%).
  2. Showering (84.9%) or swimming (61%) in contact lenses.
  3. Extending the recommended replacement frequency of cases (82.3%), or lenses (49.9%).
  4. Topping off disinfecting solution (55.1%).
  5. Rinsing lenses with tap water (35.5%).

"While people who get serious eye infections represent a small percentage of those who wear contacts, they serve as a reminder for all contact lens wearers to take simple steps to prevent infections," notes Jennifer Cope, M.D., medical epidemiologist in CDC's Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch, in a statement.

Read how one such contact lens-derived infection completely changed the opinion of the National Consumer League executive director.

AOA, CDC engage public with contact lens observance

Contact lenses are a safe and effective vision correction option for nearly 40 million Americans if the FDA-regulated medical devices are worn and cared for correctly. The problem is, careless attitudes take their toll: The CDC reports nearly 1 million doctors' visits for contact lens-linked eye infections amounted to $170 million in added costs to the health care system.

"Contact lens hygiene and care regimen are often overlooked issues by patients, and sometimes people's habits are quite horrifying," says Jeffrey Sonsino, O.D., AOA Contact Lens and Cornea Section (CLCS) chair. That's why AOA champions a number of measures to curb contact lens abuse and safeguard patients, including participating with the CDC and others in an upcoming health observance week.

Contact Lens Health Week is an awareness campaign devoted to promoting good contact lens hygiene and safe wearing habits that can help reduce the risk of eye infections. Coinciding with back-to-school initiatives, this year's observance aims to connect directly with patients in a manner that resonates.

"Contact lenses are like underwear," one eye-catching graphic reads, while the social media hashtag #OnePairTakeCare encourages a viral discussion—two aspects of a much larger campaign designed to spur an open—forum discussion on healthy habits that lead to healthy eyes, including the importance of regular, comprehensive eye care.

"Optometrists spend considerable time and effort during an in-office contact lens evaluation educating our patients how to properly treat and care for contact lenses, which are considered medical devices," Dr. Sonsino says. "With this education, patients are best equipped to be safe and healthy for years to come."

Meeting patients where they're at—in terms of tone and channel—is a major tenet of the campaign, which is why a CDC—hosted Twitter chat kicks off the week, featuring eye health authorities including AOA and AOA CLCS.

Read more about AOA efforts to educate lawmakers and federal authorities about the necessity of safeguards in the contact lens market in the July/August 2016 edition of AOA Focus.

Read more about important legislation that would prevent unscrupulous, online contact lens retailers from sidestepping protections outlined by the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act.

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