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Here Are The Best Ways To Prevent Eye Infections If You Wear Contacts

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Ever fall asleep with you contacts in? Yeah, you are not alone.

A new 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. Eye infections are caused by bacterial, fungal or viral agents that could include redness, irritation, and reduced vision. Different eye infection have different causes, symptoms and health outcomes.

This guide will break down the common eye infections caused from wearing contacts and ways to prevent them.

Common eye infections

People who wear contact lenses are at risk for developing eye infections because the lenses decreases the amount of oxygen that reaches the corneas. Bacteria could also build up on the lenses if a person wears them overnight, does not keep them clean them, or doesn't replace their case from time to time.

Hypoxia

Hypoxia is a common side effect of wearing contact lenses for an extended period of time. It occurs when a limited supply of oxygen reaches the cornea. Because the cornea relies on tears for oxygen, contacts can dry out the eyes and reduce its oxygen supply even more.

Microbial keratitis

Microbial keratitis, the most common contact lens-related infection, is defined as inflammation of the cornea, which is the clear tissue that is located on the front of the eye and protects the pupil and iris.

"People who wear contact lenses overnight are more than 20 times more likely to get Keratitis," says CDC medical epidemiologist Jennifer Cope. "Wearing contacts and not taking care of them properly is the single biggest risk factor for Keratitis."

Mild cases of keratitis is caused by wearing contact lenses for too long, but infectious keratitis could lead to damaged vision if left untreated.

Pink eye

Believe it or not, contact lenses could also cause conjunctivitis, or known simply as pink eye. Pink eye is inflammation of the white part of your eye caused by an infection. Soft contact lenses could trigger an immune response against the alien object in the eye, which could cause giant papillary conjunctivitis (GPC). Red bumps by the eyelids are the telltale sign of pink eye.

People with pink eye experience itching, testing, and a discharge. Pink eye is contracted after an infected person coughs or sneezes, or if you share a pillowcase or towel. Bacteria can also be spread by direct contact after rubbing your eyes.

Don't wear contact lenses if you have pink eye. For treatment, your eye doctor could prescribe eye drops, ointment, or antibiotics to treat pink eye.

Blepharitis

Blepharitis is inflammation of the eyelids that is caused by bacteria or a skin condition such as rosacea. The eyelids become red and itchy, and dandruff-like scales can develop on the eyelashes. Blepharitis could cause a burning sensation in the eyes and blurred vision. Irregular oil production creates bacteria that could cause blepharitis. Other causes include staphylococci bacteria, allergies, scalp dandruff or rosacea.

A warm compress can help reduce swelling and crust caused by blepharitis. Eye drops or artificial tears may be prescribed. Women should avoid wearing makeup often and people should not wear contact lenses until cured. 

Trachoma

According to the CDC, trachoma is the world's leading cause of preventable blindness infections. It is caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis, which affects the cornea and eyelids. Symptoms include inflammation, redness, and loss of vision.

Trachoma is often linked with poor hygiene, especially in poverty-stricken areas. About 8 million people are visually impaired from trachoma worldwide. Parasitic bacteria infects the eye from unclear water supply, or poor sanitation.

Severe cases of trachoma causes blindness, but this can be prevented by antibiotic treatments.

How to prevent eye infections from contacts

Remember that contact lenses are not a fashion accessory and are a medical device. That means they must be handled, cleaned and stored correctly. The CDC says that about one million contacts-related infections are a result of improper cleaning.

Face and eye hygiene is the first line of defense against eye infections. Wash your hands with soap and warm water, and place a clean washcloth over the eyelids and gently rubs. Use non-irritating baby shampoo or ask your eye doctor for scrub solution to clean the area around the eye.

The CDC recommends soaking contacts for at least ten minutes in hydrogen peroxide to wipe away viruses.

Each type of contact lenses and solutions have specific instructions on proper cleaning methods. Follow the instructions to avoid infections.

Clean and change often

Rinse your contacts with quality products and follow the solution soaking times in the instructions. Rub the lenses in a back-and-forth motion. Clean your lens case frequently and replace with a new one often. Make sure to change storing solution often and never use tap water to clean your contacts.  

Shower and use hair products and makeup before inserting contacts. Women should wear easy to wash, cream-based makeup to avoid eye irritations.

Don't lick and stick

It's common for contacts to dry out, but never lick them before putting them in. Bacteria can easily latch onto the lens and then into the eye. Soft contact lenses require a solution to moisten. Never use tap water or saliva instead of solution. 

Don't fall asleep with contacts in

Sleeping with your contacts in dries out the eyes. About two thirds of contact wears say they wish they could sleep in them overnight. But keeping them in at night reduces the oxygen supply your eyes need. Consistently leaving them in can cause your eyes to swell and in severe cases, blood vessels can develop in the cornea.

The eyes need a break from wear to reduce the risk of inflammation and infection. 

Try FDA-approved "breathable" silicone hydrogel contacts for overnight wear if you tend to get lazy before bed. 

Other tips include: never shower or swim with lenses in, store and disinfect them properly, get eye exams often.

[PHOTO CREDIT: Helga Birna Jónasdóttir/Flickr]

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