By: Richard E. Gans, MD
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Everyone can get an eye infection, but they can be more severe for people who wear contact lenses.
Eye infections are caused by bacterial, fungal or viral agents that can cause redness, irritation and reduced vision. Eye infections are not just uncomfortable annoyances, however. Left untreated, some types of eye infections can damage the eye very quickly.
A 2014 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that about a million Americans visit the doctor because of contact lens-related eye infections each year. If you wear contact lenses, you’re at a greater risk for developing eye infections because the lenses decrease the amount of oxygen that reaches the corneas.
Bacteria also can build up on the lenses if you don’t follow proper methods of handling, wearing or storing your lenses. Here are eight smart hygiene habits for contact lens wearers:
- Never touch your contacts with unwashed hands. Wash your hands with soap and water, and thoroughly dry them before handling your lenses.
- Keep your solution fresh by changing it every day. Never add new solution to old. Always throw out the old solution.
- Always store your contacts in a clean case.
- Never use saliva or your tongue to clean your lenses. This is a sure-fire route to an eye infection.
- Lubricate your eyes by using either preservative-free or contact lens-compatible eye drops. If you find you need to use drops more than six times a day, see your doctor.
- Remove your contacts at night, even if you wear disposable lenses.
- Have your eyes professionally examined at least once every year.
- Be careful before putting a lens in your eye. If your eye doesn’t look or feel right, don’t put the lens in. If the problems don’t go away in a day or so, get medical attention. You don’t want to harm your cornea, or affect your sight.
Signs of a bacterial infection include redness, pain, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, a noticeable discharge and sensations of foreign particles being trapped in the eye.
If you think you may have an eye infection, it’s best to see an eye doctor as soon as possible. Remove your contacts and wear your glasses until you can get medical attention. Bring your lenses, storage cases and open bottles of solution to your appointment.
Artificial tears may provide some relief while you seek medical attention. Redness-removing drops may make eyes look better. But they work by constricting blood vessels, not by healing.
Most eye infections can be treated successfully with topical and oral medications. But surgery may be necessary if the cornea is damaged.
Read more expert advice from Richard Gans, MD, on his blog.
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