Improper Contact Lens Use Associated with Increased Risk of Infections

Today, more than 45 million Americans (more than one in ten people) wear contact lenses—a safe and effective form of vision correction. However, between 40 and 90 percent of contact lens wearers do not follow the proper hygiene instructions for their lenses, which can pose serious risks to eye and vision health.

While contact lenses provide many vision benefits, they are not risk free. To raise awareness of healthy contact lens practices, the American Optometric Association (AOA) is partnering with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to promote Contact Lens Health Week, August 20th-24th.

Contact lens-related eye infections and other injuries can lead to long-lasting damage but often are preventable. Clean and safe handling of contacts is one of the easiest and most important measures patients can take to protect their vision. Many common care mistakes, including failing to clean and store lenses as directed by a doctor of optometry and sleeping while wearing contacts, can increase the chance of getting bacteria in the eyes and causing infection. Serious eye infections can lead to blindness and affect up to one out of every 500 contact lens users per year, and even minor infections can be painful and disrupt day-to-day life.

All contact lenses, even purely cosmetic ones, are classified as medical devices by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and require a valid prescription. They must be properly fitted and prescribed by a doctor of optometry. Purchasing contact lenses without a prescription from third-party vendors, such as online retailers and novelty shops, can also put consumers at risk. While decorative contact lenses are often considered a fashion accessory, they pose the same potential safety and health issues as corrective lenses. Illegally-purchased lenses can cause bacterial infections, allergic reactions and even significant damage to the eye’s ability to function.

We would like to offer the following recommendations for contact lens wearers to maintain safe and healthy eyes:

  • Always wash and thoroughly dry your hands before handling contact lenses.
  • Carefully and regularly clean contact lenses as directed by your optometrist. Rub the contact lenses with your fingers and rinse them thoroughly before soaking the lenses overnight in multipurpose solution that completely covers each lens.
  • Store lenses in the proper lens storage case, and replace the case at least every three months.
  • Use only products recommended by your optometrist to clean and disinfect your lenses.
  • Use only fresh solution to clean and store contact lenses. Never reuse old solution.
  • Always follow the recommended contact lens replacement schedule your optometrist prescribes.
  • Remove contact lenses before swimming or entering a hot tub.
  • Never use expired prescriptions or stock up on lenses right before the prescription is about to expire.
  • See your optometrist for your regularly scheduled contact lens and eye examination.

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Bad Habits of Contact Lens Wearers

Here is a great infographic from the American Optometric Association regarding the “Bad Habits of Contact Lens Wearers”

You know who you are…

  • Wash your hands before handling lenses.
  • Don’t sleep in lenses not intended for overnight wear.
  • Keep your case clean using fresh solution every time and replace it every three months.
  • Get an eye exam yearly.

Bad Habits of contact lens wearers infographic

Happy Halloween

Halloween optometry eyechart
Happy Halloween

Whether you’re goblin or ghoul, vampire or witch, poor costume choices—including decorative contact lenses and flammable costumes—and face paint allergies can haunt you long after Halloween if they cause injury.

Enjoy a safe and happy Halloween by following the “lucky 13” guidelines from FDA, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  1. Wear costumes made of fire-retardant materials; look for “flame resistant” on the label. If you make your costume, use flame-resistant fabrics such as polyester or nylon.
  2. Wear bright, reflective costumes or add strips of reflective tape so you’ll be more visible; make sure the costumes aren’t so long that you’re in danger of tripping.
  3. Wear makeup and hats rather than masks that can obscure your vision.
  4. Test the makeup you plan to use by putting a small amount on the arm of the person who will be wearing it a couple of days in advance. If a rash, redness, swelling, or other signs of irritation develop where the makeup was applied, that’s a sign of a possible allergy.
  5. Check FDA’s list of color additives to see if makeup additives are FDA approved. If they aren’t approved for their intended use, don’t use it.
  6. Don’t wear decorative contact lenses unless you have seen an eye care professional and gotten a proper lens fitting and instructions for using the lenses.

Safe Treats

Eating sweet treats is also a big part of the fun on Halloween. If you’re trick-or-treating, health and safety experts say you should remember these tips:

  1. Don’t eat candy until it has been inspected at home.
  2. Trick-or-treaters should eat a snack before heading out, so they won’t be tempted to nibble on treats that haven’t been inspected.
  3. Tell children not to accept—or eat—anything that isn’t commercially wrapped.
  4. Parents of very young children should remove any choking hazards such as gum, peanuts, hard candies, or small toys.
  5. Inspect commercially wrapped treats for signs of tampering, such as an unusual appearance or discoloration, tiny pinholes, or tears in wrappers. Throw away anything that looks suspicious.

For partygoers and party throwers, FDA recommends the following tips for two seasonal favorites:

  1. Look for the warning label to avoid juice that hasn’t been pasteurized or otherwise processed, especially packaged juice products that may have been made on site. When in doubt, ask! Always ask if you are unsure if a juice product is pasteurized or not. Normally, the juice found in your grocer’s frozen food case, refrigerated section, or on the shelf in boxes, bottles, or cans is pasteurized.
  2. Before bobbing for apples—a favorite Halloween game—reduce the amount of bacteria that might be on apples by thoroughly rinsing them under cool running water. As an added precaution, use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.

Eye Safety

FDA joins eye care professionals—including the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, the Contact Lens Association of Ophthalmologists and the American Optometric Association—in discouraging consumers from using illegal decorative (colored) contact lenses. These are contact lenses that have not been approved by FDA for safety and effectiveness. Consumers should only use brand name contact lenses from well-known contact lens companies.

If you have never worn contact lenses before, Halloween should not be the first time you wear them. Experts warn that buying any kind of contact lenses—which are medical devices and regulated as such—without an examination and a prescription from an eye care professional can cause serious eye disorders and infections, which may lead to permanent vision loss. Despite the fact that it’s illegal to sell decorative contact lenses without a valid prescription, FDA says the lenses are sold on the Internet and in retail shops and salons—particularly around Halloween.

The decorative lenses make the wearer’s eyes appear to glow in the dark, create the illusion of vertical “cat eyes,” or change the wearer’s eye color.

“Although unauthorized use of decorative contact lenses is a concern year-round, Halloween is the time when people may be inclined to use them, perhaps as costume accessories,” says FDA eye expert Bernard Lepri, O.D., M.S., M.Ed.. “What troubles us is when they are bought and used without a valid prescription, without the involvement of a qualified eye care professional, or without appropriate follow-up care. This can lead to significant risks of eye injuries, including blindness.”

This article appears on FDA’s Consumer Updates page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.