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Improper lens care causes eye damage

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It may be the dirty little secret of the near and far-sighted. In a crunch, when contacts fall out or feel dry, lens wearers get desperate.

According to research conducted in the United Kingdom, an overwhelming number of lens wearers washed their contacts with everything but sterile solution.

But eye doctors say the risk of permanent eye damage is real.

Butter, baby oil and beer are just a few of the many fluids lens wearers have confessed to cleaning their contacts with.

Eye doctors say some people have even resorted to using saliva when saline is scarce.

"They'll put them [contact lens] in their mouth and clean them and rewet them that way," says Herb Greenman, an ophthalmologist with Greenman Eye Associates in Charlotte, N.C. "That's very disturbing, because the mouth is full of bacteria."

Around 600 different types of bacteria can be found in your mouth. 

If these foreign micro-organisms in your mouth are allowed to invade your eye, they may penetrate the cornea, creating corneal scarring or an ulcer.

Jennifer Erwin says a corneal ulcer is extremely unpleasant.   

"It felt like I had a stick in my eye," Erwin recalls.

Left untreated, a corneal ulcer requires a transplant, but a new cornea is only available from a cadaver.  

Greenman says there are other things lens wearers shouldn't do.

"I wouldn't shower with contact lenses on," and Greenman adds, "I wouldn't swim in freshwater streams with contact lenses on or even in public pools."

He says you also shouldn't wash your contact lenses in tap water, which is home to the acanthamoeba.

If ingested, acanthamoeba is a harmless parasite, but if inserted into your eye, Greenman warns, "It will burrow into the cornea going deeper and deeper until you have a perforation."

Clearly, you're taking your chances on any alternative cleaner.

Instead, keep a spare pair of lenses on hand when you are away from home.

You can carry a small container of solution, or simply go to the nearest store to find saline.

If you are completely fed up with caring for your contacts, you can go back to eye glasses or opt for laser correction, which should rid you of all solution worry.  

Each is a better choice than reaching for anything other than the sterile solution found in a bottle.

Greenman says some people try to save money by making their own saline solution at home. If the amoeba is in your tap water, this will likely cause problems for your eyes later on.

Additional Information:

The following information is from Bausch + Lomb's website in an article entitled, Consumers Use Unconventional Alternatives for Contact Lens Solution (http://www.bausch.com/en/Our-Company/Recent-News/2011-Archive/unconventional-11-29).

  • Baby oil, beer, Coke, petroleum jelly, lemonade, fruit juice, and butter are among the most unconventional and damaging alternatives to contact lens solution that contact lens wearers confessed to using in a study recently conducted in the United Kingdom. The research was conducted by the makers of BiotrueTM multi-purpose contact lens solution.
  • 20% of respondents reported using an unconventional solution.
  • There was an overwhelming proportion of people that reported using saliva or tap water.
  • The average adult mouth contains 500 to 650 different types of bacteria.
  • Tap and distilled water contains micro-organisms that can damage the eye and is associated with Acathamoeba keratitis (a corneal infection that is resistant to treatment).

The following information is from an NPR report entitled, Dirty Little Secret: Almost Nobody Cleans Contacts Properly (http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2011/12/13/143444214/dirty-little-secret-almost-nobody-cleans-contacts-properly).

  • In a survey of 400 contact lens wearers done by Dwight Cavanagh, a clinical professor of ophthalmology at UT Southwestern Medical center, just 2% follow the rules for safe lens wear.
  • The biggest issues were showing or swimming while wearing contacts, sleeping in them and using them longer than recommended before disposing.
  • 47 percent of the people asked said they never replace their lens case, or only do so when the eye doctor gives them a new one at the annual visit.
  • Eye infections caused by contact lenses are relatively rare; the risk ranges from 1 in 7,500 for hard-lens wearers to 1 in 500 for people who sleep in daily wear lenses.
  • Showering in your lenses exposes you to Acanthamoeba, an organism that commonly lives in tap water and lakes.

The following information is from the eyeSmart website in an article entitled, Proper Care of Contact Lenses (http://www.geteyesmart.org/eyesmart/glasses-contacts-lasik/contact-lens-care.cfm).

The American Academy of Ophthalmology, the Contact Lens Association for Ophthalmologists and the Cornea Society and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery recommend:

1. Wash your hands with soap and water before handling the lenses, then dry with a lint-free towel.

2. Minimize contact with water, including removing lenses before going swimming or in a hot tub.

3. Contact lenses should not be rinsed with or stored in water (tap or sterile water).

4. Do not put your lenses in your mouth to wet them. Saliva is not a sterile solution.

5. Do not use saline solution and rewetting drops to disinfect lenses. Neither is an effective or approved disinfectant.

6. Wear and replace contact lenses according to the schedule prescribed by your eye care professional.

7. Follow the specific contact lens cleaning and storage guidelines from your eye care professional and the solution manufacturer.

8. During cleaning, rub your contact lenses with your fingers, then rinse the lenses with solution before soaking them. This "rub and rinse" method is considered by some experts to be a superior method of cleaning, even if the solution you are using is a "no-rub" variety.

9. Rinse the contact lens case with fresh solution - not water. Then leave the empty case open to air dry.

10. Keep the contact lens case clean and replace it regularly, at least every three months. Lens cases can be a source of contamination and infection. Do not use cracked or damaged lens cases.

11. Do not re-use old solution or "top off" the solution in your lens case.

12. Do not transfer contact lens solution into smaller travel-size containers. This can affect the sterility of the solution, which can lead to an eye infection.

13. Do not allow the tip of the solution bottle to come in contact with any surface, and keep the bottle tightly closed when not in use.

14. If you store your lenses in the case for an extended period of time, consult the instructions for the lenses or the contact lens solution to determine if re-disinfecting the lenses is appropriate before you wear them. In no case should you wear your lenses after storage for 30 or more days without re-disinfecting.

15. Remove the contact lenses and consult an ophthalmologist immediately if you experience symptoms such as redness, pain, tearing, increased light sensitivity, blurry vision, discharge or swelling.

16. If you smoke, stop. Studies show that contact lens wearers who smoke have a higher rate of problems than nonsmokers.

17. Get regular eye exams. If you wear contact lenses, you should be examined by an eye care provider annually, and more often as needed.

18. contact lens prescriptions do expire - typically within one year. You should see your eye care professional yearly to ensure they continue to have an accurate and appropriate prescription. These regular exams are also important opportunities for reinforcing proper lens care.

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