PhotoDo you wear contact lenses? If so, you have a lot of company. Some 41 million people in this country wear contacts -- and nearly all of them may be engaging in at least one behavior known to increase their risk of eye infections.

According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly one-third of contact lens wearers who participated in a national survey reported going to the doctor for red or painful eyes related to wearing contact lenses.

More than 99% of them admitted to at least one risky behavior. The majority of wearers reported:

  • keeping their contact lens cases for longer than recommended (82.3%);
  • “topping off” solution in the case—adding new solution to the existing solution instead of emptying the case out fully before adding new solution (55.1%); or
  • wearing their lenses while sleeping (50.2 percent).

Each of these behaviors has been reported in previous studies to raise the risk of eye infections by five times or more.

The survey

An online survey was given to a sample of contact lens wearers to determine how often contact they engaged in behaviors that could put them at risk for an eye infection. The CDC collaborated with the Contact Lens Assessment in Youth (CLAY) group, a multi-university group of researchers, to conduct the survey.

A separate survey was used to estimate the number of contact lens wearers -- about 41 million adults. Taken together, the survey results indicate that millions of people could be at risk for serious eye infections because of poor contact lens hygiene behaviors.

“Good vision contributes to overall well-being and independence for people of all ages, so it’s important not to cut corners on healthy contact lens wear and care,” said CDC Medical Epidemiologist Jennifer Cope, M.D., M.P.H. “We are finding that many wearers are unclear about how to properly wear and care for contact lenses."

What to do

To prevent eye infections, contact lens wearers should:

  • Wash hands with soap and water and dry them well before touching contact lenses;
  • Take contacts out before sleeping, showering or swimming;
  • Rub and rinse contacts in disinfecting solution each time they remove them;
  • Rub and rinse the case with contact lens solution, dry with a clean tissue, and store it upside down with the caps off after each use;
  • Replace contact lens cases at least once every three months;
  • Avoid “topping off” solution in lens case (adding fresh solution to old solution); and
  • Carry a backup pair of glasses in case contact lenses have to be taken out.

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