Before patients hit the beach, make sure they know what’s lurking in the water

February 26, 2020
Spring break is closer than it seems—take this opportunity to remind patients of healthy contact lens hygiene habits and other eye health considerations.
Spring break - contact lens hygiene

Americans have a bad case of cabin fever this year, and their prescription? Spring break. However, fun in the sun may not be the only prescription patients need if healthy contact lens hygiene isn't prioritized.

Spring break travel season—by some estimates, Feb. 21 to April 19—is underway, and this year nearly a quarter more Americans plan to vacate stateside than did so in spring 2019. Even despite global coronavirus worries, international travel is up 18% over last year, too, with popular tropical destinations in the Caribbean and Gulf a common refrain among the 2.7 million flight itineraries already logged.

Clearly, spring breakers' preference for a winter thaw is still a beach getaway, which is why both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the AOA devote public health resources and messaging to just that kind of sunny travel. While vacation goers may remember the basics of healthy beach-going—remembering medications, wearing sunscreen and staying hydrated—evidence suggests they're likely to forget other healthy basics, like contact lens hygiene.

Water, naps top faux pas

In fact, 99% of contact lens wearers commit at least one unsafe hygiene behavior routinely, the CDC says. The top infractions being some that active, carefree spring breakers might easily commit, including:

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

Of particular concern among beach-goers is water. Contact lenses should not be exposed to water—be it from a tap, pools or ocean water—as lens materials absorb not only the water but also any chemicals or bacteria present. One such bacteria found in tainted water, Acanthamoeba, causes painful keratitis and can result in blindness. That's why doctors of optometry should reinforce with patients the importance of using fresh solution on contact lenses and proper hand hygiene.

Additionally, spring breakers should be reminded against sleeping in contact lenses. Another CDC report found this one contact lens faux pas could increase risk of infection 6- to 8-fold. These corneal infections require frequent administration of antibiotic eye drops, multiple follow-up appointments and even permanent eye damage.

Lastly, encourage patients heading on vacation to pack enough contact lenses, fresh disinfecting solution, a clean case and a spare pair of glasses should they encounter troubles with their lenses.

"Spring break 2020 is right around the corner and many of us anxiously anticipate heading off to fun, relaxing destinations," says Pamela Lowe, O.D., AOA Contact Lens and Cornea Section chair. "Contact lenses give us the visual freedom to enjoy and enhance all our vacation activities but we need to be mindful of the added risks to our eye health. To ensure a great trip, it's important to know and practice healthy habits when exposing our eyes to the outdoors."

The AOA offers several resources that doctors of optometry can use to start these conversations, including:

Try 'teach-back' method

Despite efforts to educate patients about these contact lens-associated risks, some patients may not retain such information. It's not an anomaly unique to eye care: Up to 80% of the medical information patients are told during office visits is forgotten immediately, while nearly half that is retained is altogether incorrect, studies show.

To help bridge that gap, the AOA developed a resource for doctors of optometry and their contact lens care teams that emphasizes the "teach-back" method. Essentially a technique that asks patients and families to reiterate in their own words what the health care provider shared, the teach-back method ensures patients understand the core takeaways and can allow for immediate intervention should a misunderstanding occur.

For additional information on the teach-back method, including a provider toolkit and interactive learning module, visit the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

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