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Fearing the Lens: How Common Are Eye Infections in Contact Lens Wearers?



The human eye is an incredibly complex and sensitive piece of equipment, positively bristling with nerve endings that alert us when even the smallest pieces of grit and dirt come into contact with it. It also, of course, converts light into electrical impulses that are transmitted to our brain as sight.

The eye is so amazing that some people seem to even want to taste it, as the world’s press reported when it was discovered that a trend for licking eyeballs had emerged amongst Japanese students (although subsequent investigations suggested that this so-called trend was over-hyped, and perhaps even a hoax). Hoax or not, eyeball licking is certainly not recommended, because while the eye is strong, it’s certainly possible to expose it to infections which can be highly unpleasant.

The sensitivity of the eye, in conjunction with the widely held belief that it can be easily damaged, is perhaps one of the reasons why contact lenses are often suspected of causing nasty eye infections. But is this actually the case, or is it simply one of those stories, with little grounding in reality?

In the Beginning

To a long-term glasses wearer, the idea of wearing actual lenses that essentially wrap around the front of your eyeballs can be a daunting prospect. While not wearing glasses can certainly be appealing, contact lenses don’t really sound that comfortable. They certainly didn’t use to be—when they were first introduced in the 1950s, they were made from inflexible, uncomfortable polymethylmethacrylate, which itself doesn’t sound like a word that you would associate with comfort. Back then; the majority of ailments associated with contact lenses were just due to eyestrain and fatigue from wearing such hard material next to the eye for a relatively long period of time.

In More Recent Times

Bacterial infections became associated with contact lens wearers as the technology progressed and more pliable, comfortable contact lenses were introduced in the 1970s. Their comfort meant that users felt they were able to wear the lenses for as long as needed, without feeling the need for any cleaning or maintenance. Of course, the correct overnight storage and cleaning of contact lenses are vital, and to neglect this part of the process invites bacterial build-up, which can attack your eyes, resulting in a variety of conditions. Also, disposable lenses are usually (rightfully) thrown out before sufficient problematic bacteria can accumulate.

If You’re Experiencing Problems

Ongoing eye infections and irritations should be examined by a doctor, but these things can usually be avoided by correct maintenance and storage of your lenses. Whether you buy your lenses online or from an optician, always ensure that you ask about the best way to look after them. If you’re following the care instructions to the letter, then it might be a simple case of having the wrong type of lenses for your eyes—but a simple eye examination should be able to determine whether or not this is the case.