CDC: Most teens who wear contact lenses at risk of serious eye infection

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COLUMBIA - A new report shows most teenaged contact lens wearers have habits that put them at serious risk for eye infections and potentially blindness.

The data comes from the first-ever study by the Centers for Disease Control on the wear and care of contact lenses by teenagers - an estimated 3 million people.

Eighty-five percent of adolescents ages 12 to 17 who wear contacts reported risky behaviors.

“Contact lenses are a safe and effective way to correct your vision when they are worn and cared for as recommended,” said. Dr. Jennifer Cope, of the CDC.

However, most contact lens wearers report sleeping or napping in their contacts, swimming with them in, not replacing them as frequently as prescribed and not visiting an eye doctor at least once a year.

Adults reported similar behaviors at about the same rate.

Columbia ophthalmologist Joseph Rich said the number of patients who don’t realize these risks is concerning.

“It doesn’t surprise me that people are wearing them incorrectly, but the number seems really high and that’s surprising in itself,” Rich said.

He said the most common eye problems for people with contacts are corneal ulcers, contact lens acute red eye - an inflammation on the outer surface of the eye - and acanthamoeba keratitis, a rare but serious eye infection that can cause blindness.

“You wouldn’t go completely blind, like blackout blind, you would just not be able to see to do things that you want to do, things would be really blurry, you wouldn’t be able to read, to watch the TV shows you want, look at photos of your kids.”

The CDC report recommends changing contacts lens cases regularly, since germs can easily stick to the cases. People who sleep or nap in lenses increase their chances for eye infection by six to eight times.

Swimming or showering while wearing contacts increases the chances of waterborne germs sticking to lenses and carrying germs from the water into the eye.

Rich advised against using extended wear contacts, like the month-long lenses. He said they are more prone to cause harmful eye infections.

“People are in these extended 30-day contact lenses that are FDA approved for 30 days but then they go shower in them. Water from shower heads can give you acanthamoeba, which is a really bad infection on their corneas. You can go blind from it."

Michael Tsvetanov is a senior at the University of Missouri and has worn contacts since the sixth grade. He said he started out wearing long-term overnight contacts and experienced multiple eye infections before switching to monthlies.

“I felt like my eye couldn’t breathe through the contact as it’s supposed to,” he said.

Tsvetanov said he had “trouble seeing, sensitivity to light, redness, and constant watering.”