The importance of contact lens hygiene
A British woman who swam and showered without removing her contact lenses, caught a bug that damaged her vision permanently.
Contact lenses are a marvellous invention. Someone with poor vision is granted freedom from having spectacles near-permanently affixed to their face – glasses that can be dropped, smudged or cracked if you’re not careful. In their place being able to see the leaves on a distant tree or the smile on an approaching friend, sans-spectacles.
But it’s not all roses. Getting a foreign body up close and personal in one of the most sensitive parts of the body – the eye – can be confronting. And if you don’t observe proper contact lens hygiene, things can get dicey – as one British woman found out.
In this case study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, the 41-year-old woman reported to her local ophthalmology (eye) clinic. She said she’d been experiencing pain, blurry vision and sensitivity to light in her left eye for about two months.
When the doctors inspected her eyes, they saw that the left eye was red and swollen – indeed, the woman was having trouble keeping it open. She told the doctors she wore monthly soft contact lenses – and that she kept her contact lenses in when she went swimming and when she showered.
When the doctors tested her vision, her right eye scored 20/20, but the left eye scored 20/200 – which is the borderline for being legally blind.
After taking tiny samples of material from the woman’s eye, they found that she had acanthamoeba keratitis, an infection caused by tiny organisms commonly found in water.
The condition is usually associated with use of contact lenses. The doctors treated the infection, which cleared up, but scarring meant the woman had to have a partial corneal transplant. She improved, but didn’t fully recover her vision.
Wearing contact lenses may seem straightforward, but it’s inherently risky – you’re sticking a foreign body in your eye.
Always wash and dry your eyes before putting in the lenses, and avoid swimming with contact lenses (or exposing them to any water, even tap water).
Fashion and practicality are understandable imperatives if you want to move away from spectacles – just be careful when you’re popping those lenses in!
Last Reviewed: 10/04/2020
© Norman Swan Medical Communications.
For reference: Fu, et al (2019). Images in Clinical Medicine: Acanthamoeba Keratitis. New England Journal of Medicine doi: 10.1056/NEJMicm1817678.
There are two main types of contact lenses, hard and soft, both with advantages and disadvantages for the wearer. Find out what products are available for contact lenses.
Eyes in the sun
Ultraviolet radiation from the sun can damage the eyes, especially in Australia. Problems include sunburn to the cornea, surfer's eye (pterygium), and cataracts.
A cataract is a clouding of the normally clear lens in the eye, which interferes with vision. Cataracts are common in older people and can be treated with cataract surgery.
Injuries to the cornea are common, and include abrasions and foreign bodies. Find out more about their symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.
Contact lens care
Find out the different types of contact lenses, how to care for them and tips on handling contact lenses.