Many contact lens wearers may be putting eyes at risk

- At Highland Eye Boutique in Atlanta's Virginia Highland neighborhood, optometrist Dr. Kristie Bennett sometimes gets an up close look at what can happen when contact lens wear goes wrong.

"Usually when people have infections, they're in quite a bit of pain and discomfort," Dr. Bennett says.

The most common complication of contact lens wear is keratitis, an inflammation of the cornea, the clear dome over the colored part of the eye.

Dr. Bennett says the problem is almost always caused by over-wear.

People, she says, are sleeping in their contacts, or using them for days, even weeks longer than recommended.

Both raise your risk of infection.

Bennett says you also have to be careful with your contact lenses around water.

"Making sure no water comes in contact with soft lenses," she says.

Water, Dr. Bennett says, can contain you don't want in your eyes.

"Specifically, (water can contain) one that is called Acanthamoeba, and that is one where people have to have corneal transplants, and sometimes lose their eye, if you actually get that amoeba in the eye," she says.

The CDC recommends contact lens users avoid swimming or even taking a shower while wearing their lenses.

For the same reason, never store your lenses in tap water.

Use a storage solution your eye doctor recommends, and avoid storing your lenses in saline solution, which cannot disinfect them like a multi-purpose or hydrogen peroxide solution can.

Handling your lenses can be tricky, too.

Dr. Bennett says wash and thoroughly dry your hands before you remove your lenses or put them in.

"Any dirt or germs that are on your hands can then transfer onto that contact and increase your risk of infection," she says.

Lens cases are another source of infection.

Dr. Bennett says a bacterial biofilm can form inside the case or along the tops.

So, clean your case between uses, but not with tap water.

"I usually recommend taking your bottle of saline, rinse out the storage case, dump that out and store it with the case open and let the case air dry," Dr. Bennett says.

Replace your case every 3 months.

If you've been boiling the case instead of tossing it, she says stop.

"We don't recommend boiling anymore because to boil it, the case has to come in contact with water," she says.  "There have been studies that show the Acanthamoeba will develop spores that actually form (or attach) into that case, so you still have a risk of getting an infection."

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