Question of the Week

March 23, 2009


There are many forms of eye wear that people use in front of their eyes, but contact lenses are the most common object that people put in their eyes.

"Eye wear protects or corrects your vision. Examples are sunglasses, safety goggles, glasses and contact lenses. If you need corrective lenses, you may be able to choose between contacts or glasses. Either usually requires a prescription. Almost anyone can wear glasses. Contact lenses require more careful handling."

As common as contact lenses are, it is easy to forget that wearing contacts requires more care than wearing glasses, and ordering contact lenses online requires more research and care than most other things that people order online.

  • "Order your contact lenses from a supplier you are familiar with and know is reliable. Contact lenses are often more complex than they appear.
  • Request the manufacturer's written patient information for your contact lenses. It will give you important risk/benefit information as well as instructions for use.
  • Beware of attempts to substitute a different brand than you presently have. While this may be acceptable in some situations, there are differences in the water content and shape between different brands. The correct choice of which lens is right for you should be based only on an examination by your eye care professional, not over the phone.
  • Carefully check to make sure the company gives you the exact brand, lens name, power (sphere; cylinder, if any; axis, if any), diameter, base curve, peripheral curves (if any)"

It is important not to use a lens that is "almost right" or "close enough." No matter how much trouble it may seem to be to get in to see an eye care professional, the damage caused by problematic contact lenses can be far worse. With that, it is also important for contact lens users to properly care for their lenses.

"Some of the possible serious hazards of wearing contact lenses are corneal ulcers, eye infections, and even blindness. Corneal ulcers are open sores in the outer layer of the cornea. They are usually caused by infections. To reduce your chances of infection, you should:

  • Rub and rinse your contact lenses as directed by your eye care professional.
  • Clean and disinfect your lenses properly according to the labeling instructions.
  • Do not 'top-off' the solutions in your case. Always discard all of the left over contact lens solution after each use. Never reuse any lens solution.
  • Do not expose your contact lenses to any water: tap, bottled, distilled, lake or ocean water. Never use non-sterile water (distilled water, tap water or any homemade saline solution). Tap and distilled water have been associated with Acanthamoeba keratitis, a corneal infection that is resistant to treatment and cure.
  • Remove your contact lenses before swimming. There is a risk of eye infection from bacteria in swimming pool water, hot tubs, lakes and the ocean.
  • Replace your contact lens storage case every 3-6 months."

Following the aforementioned guidelines for ordering and care are important whether a person is ordering traditional contacts to improve their vision, or they are looking for something a little more unique.

"If you want something out of the ordinary when it comes to contact lenses then you might want to have a look at special effect lenses, also known as crazy contacts, novelty contacts or Halloween contact lenses. When using these lenses you'll change the appearance of your eyes completely without really affecting the eyes themselves. ... One reason for the popularity of these lenses is that everyone can wear them -- regardless if you have a vision disorder or not. However, even if you order them with zero power, you still need to be fitted by an eye care professional. ... you can't get special effect contact lenses without a prescription. Even though you might not a have a defect of vision, and normally wouldn't need regular prescription contacts, you still will need a prescription for these lenses. ... they still require proper fitting and only an eye doctor can do this."

After receiving any pair of contacts, it is a good idea to have the product checked by an eye care professional if a person suspects that there may be a problem.

"If you think you have received an incorrect lens, check with your eye care professional. Don’t accept a substitution unless your eye care professional approves it."

Proper care of contact lenses is important even when eyes are healthy. When a person suffers from an eye infection (such as pinkeye), even more care and attention should be involved.

"Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the tissue covering the eye and inner surface of the eyelid. It can be infectious (mainly caused by bacteria or viruses) or noninfectious. ... When people talk about pinkeye, they're usually referring to the infectious kind, which often is caused by the same bacteria and viruses responsible for colds and other infections, including ear infections, sinus infections, and sore throats."

"If you wear contact lenses and you've been diagnosed with conjunctivitis, your doctor or eye doctor may recommend that you not wear contact lenses while infected. After the infection is gone, clean your lenses carefully. Be sure to disinfect the lenses and case at least twice before wearing them again. If you wear disposable contact lenses, throw away your current pair and use a new pair."

As mentioned earlier, contact lenses that are not properly fit and/ or not properly cared for can damage a person's eye. Infections are only one potential problem.

"There are many causes of corneal ulcers. Contact lens wearers (especially soft) have an increased risk of ulcers if they do not adhere to strict regimens for the cleaning, handling, and disinfection of their lenses and cases. Soft contact lenses are designed to have very high water content and can easily absorb bacteria and infecting organisms if not cared for properly. Pseudomonas is a common cause of corneal ulcer seen in those who wear contacts."

"A corneal ulcer forms when the surface of the cornea is damaged or compromised. Ulcers may be sterile (no infecting organisms) or infectious. The term infiltrate is also commonly used along with ulcer. Infiltrate refers to an immune response causing an accumulation of cells or fluid in an area of the body where they don't normally belong. Whether or not an ulcer is infectious is an important distinction for the physician to make and determines the course of treatment. Bacterial ulcers tend to be extremely painful and are typically associated with a break in the epithelium, the superficial layer of the cornea. In some cases, the inflammatory response involves the anterior chamber along with the cornea. Certain types of bacteria, such as Pseudomonas, are extremely aggressive and can cause severe damage and even blindness within 24-48 hours if left untreated."

Questions of the Week:
What considerations should you take into consideration when deciding if contacts are the best choice for your needs? How can an eye care professional help with these decisions? How can talking with an eye care professional help prevent serious eye problems for those who wear contacts? What precautions should those who wear contacts make to help assure the best possible eye health?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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