In advance of the upcoming Contact Lens Health Week (August 22 to 26), which is apparently a thing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a report outlining the risks of corneal scarring and vision issues that can be caused by contact lens-related eye infections.
The most notable information in the report is not only the potential for serious or long-lasting eye damage, but how many of the infections come with easily avoidable risk factors.
About 41 million people in the United States are contact lens wearers, and the devices are a safe and effective method of improving vision when used correctly. The report looks at 1,075 contact lens-related corneal infections that were recorded in the Medical Device Reporting database.
The consequences of these infections ranged from mild (painful and disruptive but no long-term consequences) to serious eye damage. A fifth of the infections covered in the report resulted in a scarred cornea, a reduction in vision, a corneal transplant, or some other significant consequence.
When the CDC looked at the cases that involved eye ulcers or keratitis (inflammation of the cornea), it found that 25.1% of them involved a patient engaging in a highly modifiable risk factor.
This includes activities like wearing contact lenses for prolonged periods of time, “topping off” contact lens solution or adding to old solution that has been sitting in the case, or sleeping with the lenses still inserted—which past research has noted as increasing the risk of infection up to eightfold.
Comparatively few cases involved an association between the infections and problems with the contact lens itself, such as a rip or tear.
Since the Medical Device Reporting database is a passive reporting system, it does have a few drawbacks when trying to analyze contact lens-related eye infections. Since more severe cases are more likely to be reported, it is possible the data is skewed towards more dramatic consequences.
The actual prevalence of contact lens-associated corneal scarring, vision issues, eye infections, and the like can also not be determined since the database doesn’t track how frequently the patients used their lenses.
What the report does show is that a significant chunk of people were not taking simple contact lens-care steps, and this may have contributed to their infections. They serve as an important cautionary tale for other users. Contact lenses are medical devices and should be used and cared for properly.
“Improper care of contact lenses can cause serious eye infections,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site, August 18, 2016; http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0818-contact-lenses.html, last accessed August 19, 2016.
Cope, J.R., et al, “Contact Lens–Related Corneal Infections — United States, 2005–2015,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 2016; dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6532a2.