Guest Post By Helen Young,
Contact lenses are considered a godsend for many, who value the frame-free experience and prefer a clean, uncluttered looks. Contact lenses may be more expensive than eyeglasses, since frequent purchases are required and health insurance normally doesn’t cover their use, yet they are increasingly popular among those for whom glasses are either too weighty or uncomfortable. Americans are particularly fond of contact lenses; over 30 million of us wear them and we make up one third of the 100 million people across the globe who prefer them to eyeglasses. A new study carried out by scientists at the American Society for Microbiology, however, has shown that they may alter the natural microbial content of the eyes, making the eye microbiome more skin-like.
Researchers at the New York University School of Medicine tested 58 adults, finding that those who used contact lenses had higher percentages of skin bacteria like pseudomonas, acinetobacter, methylobacterium, and lower proportions of streptococcus, staphylococcus, haemophilus and Corynebacterium. The researchers claim that they do not know the cause of these changes – bacteria could be transferred form the hands to the lens, or the lenses themselves could exert pressure on the different bacteria on the eye, favoring the proliferation of skin bacteria.
The findings are important because contact lense use is considered a risk factor for eye infections such as giant papillary conjunctivitis. Symptoms of the latter include swelling of the eyelids, redness and discharge. The first signs of this type of conjunctivitis among contact lens wearers consists of intolerance to the lens itself. Another infection related to contacts is keratitis – an inflammation of the cornea that can cause everything from redness to pain, excessive tearing or discharge, blurred or decreased vision, photophobia and the sensation that something is stuck in the eye.
The study could help future research into the possible role played by specific microbiomes in the increased risk for infection in wearers of contact lenses. While it is too early to offer advice to those who use contacts, if infections are related to the way lenses impact microbiomes, new preventive measures could be proposed.
Contact lenses can damage the eyes in other ways, especially if you wear them for too many hours straight, if they are not cleaned properly, or if they are not replaced promptly. Because they cover the cornea, they reduce the amount of oxygen received by your eyes. Oxygen is essential when it comes to maintaining eye healthy. Therefore, you can reduce the negative effects of wearing contact lenses in the following ways:
- As soon as you don’t need to wear your contacts and especially when you get home in the evening, remove and rinse the lense and leave in its case. Rinsing is important because it gets rid of particles that may cause irritation.
- Use eye drops to keep the eye wet and hopefully flush out bacteria that can cause irritation. Lubricating eye drops are particularly interesting for those who suffer from dry eye. Some drops in themselves can cause irritation so watch out for signs and keep trying different brands until you find the product that causes the least irritation. Ask your doctor for suggestions, since some drops are incompatible with contact lenses.
- Alternate between glasses and contact lenses. Many people complain that glasses hurt the nose bridge and leave indentations, while contact lenses which are left on too long can cause irritation. Try alternating between the two for maximum comfort. To reduce annoyance and pain caused by glasses, try frameless styles, which are considerably lighter than glasses with thick frames.
- Consider using disposable contact lenses. Daily disposable may be more expensive, but if you can afford them, they are a good option since they pose a smaller risk for infections. Although lenses are usually replaced every month, opticians note that many patients tend to use long-wear contacts for more than the prescribed time. Daily disposable ensure that you use a clean lens regularly. The cost of these lenses vary from around $500 to $800 a year.
- Increase your intake of Omega-3 essential fatty acids. Research has shown that Omega-3 fatty acids (found in fatty fish and supplements, as well as walnuts and flaxseed oil) can increase the quality of the oily part of tears, which lessens the rate of evaporation and helps to reduce dry eye and irritation.