October 10, 2012

Carrie Bebermeyer

Looking for Trouble: Shortcuts in Caring for Your Contacts a Bad Idea, SLU Doc Warns

When you received your first set of contacts, you probably were diligent in following the cleaning and wearing instructions your doctor gave you. But familiarity can breed contempt, and after years of wearing contacts, you may have let your routine go by the wayside.

Saint Louis University assistant professor of ophthalmology and SLUCare physician Sean Edelstein, M.D.  

Saint Louis University assistant professor of ophthalmology and SLUCare physician Sean Edelstein, M.D. cautions contact wearers that the consequences from taking shortcuts can be much more serious than they may imagine.

“While contacts are generally very safe, wearers should know that poor contact care can lead to serious health issues,” said Edelstein, who specializes in cornea and external disease of the eye. “Unfortunately, I usually see patients after they’ve developed contact lens related infections or inflammation.

“Eye redness, pain, sensitivity to light and blurry vision are symptoms that suggest something is wrong. In this scenario, you should immediately remove your contact lens and see an eye care professional."

Common shortcuts that most likely lead to trouble include using lens solutions that have gone beyond the expiration or discard date, reusing leftover contact lens solution in the case, and exposure of contact lenses to any non-sterile water. Other risk factors include overnight wear, extended wear, inadequate cleaning and disinfection of lenses and storage cases.

Failure to use contact lenses and solution correctly can result in corneal infection and ulceration. Bacterial infections caused by Pseudomonas and Staphylococcus are common culprits. Rarely, infections caused by fungi or parasites may occur and are much more difficult to diagnose and treat. Severe cases can spread rapidly through the cornea and deeper into the eye, causing endophthalmitis.

Corneal ulcers can result in corneal scarring and permanent loss of vision, which may require corneal transplant surgery in order to restore vision, Edelstein says.

Play it safe and cut out these common shortcuts:

  • Never use tap water in place of your contact solution. Tap water can harbor microorganisms that can cause eye infections.
  • Always start with fresh contact solution. Don’t reuse solution and “tap off” by adding more.
  • Keep your contact case clean and follow lens cleaning and handling instructions.
  • Don’t leave contacts in longer than instructed. Follow the designated schedule for your particular type of lenses and remove them when recommended. It’s a bad idea to push your luck with overnight and extended wear contacts.

Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. SLUCare is the physician practice of Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

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