I'll be the first to admit it: I wear my contact lenses to bed most nights. I sometimes wear them longer than I'm supposed to. And on a few rare occasions, I've found myself nowhere near contact lens solution and used a little bit of water instead. (Shameful, I know!)
According to new numbers released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday, Americans make nearly 1 million doctors appointments and emergency room visits a year for eye infections -- most of them due to the improper use and care of contact lenses.
If you are a contact wearer, you know how easy it is to take short cuts.
Most people have found themselves in a tricky situation, where they have to deal with an errant lens with no contact solution in sight.
Not to mention that once you get away with sleeping in your contacts once, you'll probably do it again. (Some lenses are approved for continuous, overnight wear, but even those should be removed whenever possible for cleaning and to let the eyes rest.)
But just because you can doesn't mean you should.
"People who wear contact lenses over night are more than 20 times more likely to get Keratitis," said Jennifer Cope a medical epidemiologist at the CDC. "Wearing contacts and not taking care of them properly is the single biggest risk factor for Keratitis."
Things happen, but the message from the CDC is that you should try to make them happen less often.
Keratitis is an eye infection of the cornea that is not at all pleasant. It occurs when germs invade the cornea, a clear dome that covers the colored part of the eye. It causes infection, pain, inflammation, scarring of the cornea and yes, it can lead to blindness.
Doctors can easily treat the infection, depending on how early it is diagnosed and what type of bacteria is causing it. But there can and are more serious health consequences.
Even some seemingly harmless behaviors can lead to infection -- like, for example, not replacing the contact case often enough. (The CDC recommends doing this every three months.)
And treating infection can be expensive: The CDC estimates that the cost of a doctor's visit for Keratitis is about $151 on average; each emergency room visit costs an average of $587. Overall in the United States, Keratitis is responsible for $175 million in direct costs.
Here are some other ways you can make your bad contact lens habits a little better, according to the CDC:
- Wash hands with soap and water and dry well before touching contact lenses
- Take contacts out before bed, showering or swimming
- Rub and rinse contacts in disinfecting solution each time you remove them
- Rub and rinse the case with contact lens solution, dry with a clean tissue and store upside down with the caps off after each use
- Replace contact lens cases at least once every three months
- Do not “top off” solution in lens case
- Carry a backup pair of glasses in case contact lenses have to be taken out
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