A lot of people wear contacts instead of glasses – it just makes things easier to not have to worry about fumbling with your glasses and being able to get up and go do whatever you want, not worrying if your glasses will fly off. While there are upsides to contacts, there are also some downsides too. One thing that has recently been discovered is the presence of more bacteria on the eyes of contact lens wearers than people who wear glasses.

The bacterial community that’s found on the eyes of those who wear contacts closely resembles the bacterial community that is found on the eyelids. But it isn’t entirely certain how the bacteria gets in the eye—whether it’s from using fingers to insert the contacts or if it’s due to the pressure of the contact on the eye, causing a disruption with the immune system. Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, a microbiologist at NYU Langone Medical Center, said, “Our research clearly shows that putting a foreign object, such as a contact lens, on the eye is not a neutral act.”

Corneal Ulcers

One of the most common problems contact lens wearers encounter is the development of corneal ulcers, which can blur your vision, make your eyes itchy, make you sensitive to light, and can result as a white patch on the cornea. A corneal ulcer is known as bacterial keratitis, and if it is left untreated it can ultimately cause blindness.

Bacterial keratitis can occur on the outer layer of the cornea (superficial keratitis) and after it heals there should be no scar. But if the bacterial keratitis occurs in deeper layers of the cornea, there could be scarring – and where the scar is will determine if it will interfere with your vision.

There are many types of bacterial keratitis: photokeratitis, caused by UV rays, viral keratitis, which is caused by the herpes simplex and herpes zoster viruses, fungal keratitis, which is caused by encountering certain plants, and amoebic keratitis, which is the most common type for contact lens wearers.

How to Reduce Chance of Infection

It’s imperative that contact lens wearers take proper care of their contacts to ensure a decreased risk of developing an infection.

Wearing contacts during the night while you sleep is a definite no, and this goes hand in hand with wearing your contacts for long periods of time. If you have a pair of glasses, try to incorporate wearing them into your schedule more, like before going to bed, so your contacts can be sanitized in saline solution. It was found that those who wear glasses are at a lower chance of developing a corneal ulcer.

While your contacts are soaking in solution at night, make sure you let them sit in the saline solution for at least 6 hours. Some bacteria that are on your lenses can be killed within 10 minutes of sitting in saline solution, but one strand of bacteria, P. aeruginosa 39016, takes up to 4 hours to be killed.

Prevention

Preventing an infection requires just a few simple but necessary steps. Before removing your contacts at night, wash your hands to remove any extra bacteria that could get on your contacts while you remove them. When applying eye makeup, be careful how far back you apply mascara and eyeshadow.

Alternatives

Of course there are alternatives to wearing contacts, like wearing glasses or considering LASIK. LASIK eye surgery is a quick procedure that is life-changing for patients who have had it done. Plus, undergoing LASIK surgery is painless; your ophthalmologist will apply anesthetic drops to your eyes before the procedure, numbing your eye. The only thing you may feel during the quick procedure is pressure or suction, but no pain.

If you live in New Jersey, and you’re interested in decreasing your risk for infection from your contacts, don’t hesitate to make an appointment to discuss LASIK with an eye care specialist at EyeCare 20/20.

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