New study shows link to infections in contact lens wearers
A new study linking contact lens use with higher levels of bacteria in the eyes and an increased risk of infection brings to light the importance of proper hygiene practices for contact lens wearers.
"Surprisingly for patients, dirty and itchy eyelids are also a breeding ground for small bugs and infectious parasites."
The study was presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in May. Researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center found that contact lens wearers had three times the usual proportion of four types of bacteria—Methylobacterium,Lactobacillus, Acinetobacter and Pseudomas—in their eyes than non-contact lens wearers. These bugs, which are more commonly associated with skin (and the hands in particular), can cause serious infections, especially for those who wear contact lenses.
Thomas Quinn, O.D., AOA Contact Lens and Cornea Section chair, stresses that eye care professionals need to discuss proper contact lens wear with their patients, especially in light of these new studies on rising infection rates.
"It's important to note that even though the increased risk for serious infection is minimal (about 4 in 10,000), proper lens care is extremely important, especially for patients who re-wear their lenses for a longer period of time, like two weeks or a month," says Dr. Quinn.
How to encourage proper contact lens hygiene
To help patients prevent infection and inflammation while wearing contacts lenses, Dr. Quinn, along with others, suggests educating them on the importance of properly caring for their lenses and their eyes.
Dr. Quinn notes that most of his patients know and understand the risks associated with poor care, however, they slip up because of busy schedules or bad habits.
"People are creatures of habit, and despite understanding the need to dispose lenses worn past the point recommended, they continue to remove them and place them in their cases for the next day," Quinn says.
To avoid these common mistakes, he suggests prescribing daily disposable lenses when appropriate, which studies have found reduce the risk for infection by over 12.5 percent.
"People who take their lenses out daily and dispose of them are less likely to get inflammation and infection because there is less room for error. They don't have to worry about buying solution or cleaning cases, which can be a laborious and time-consuming process," he says.
Dr. Quinn adds that one of the more surprising ways to prevent infection is to put more focus on the care of the patient's eyelid.
"The eyelid glands are moist and warm, which is what many of these bugs love to live in. Eye care providers are finally seeing the importance of caring for the ocular surface. In addition to doing eyelid expressions, we're starting to council patients on proper eyelid care and even suggest wipes, foaming cleansers and tablets to clean and care for them," Dr. Quinn says.
The more difficult cases, especially for Dr. Quinn and the other care practitioners at his practice in Athens, Ohio, are the patients who complain of inflammation and itchiness but have no obvious cause for those symptoms.
"In many of these cases, we can't pinpoint the exact cause of discomfort so we have to ask the patients to show us where the itchiness and inflammation is coming from. There are a surprising number of patients who realize it's their eyelids causing the issues and not the cornea."
In addition to eyelid care, other steps that patients can take to reduce the risk of infection include not sleeping in lenses and properly washing and drying hands.