Eye Infections Tied to Poor Contact Lens Care

Keratitis affected almost 1 million Americans in 2010

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) In one year, almost 1 million people sought medical care for the same eye health problem — and that problem could be the result of patients not taking care of their contacts.

Infection of the cornea, known as keratitis, is a frequent problem for people who wear contact lenses, says a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Simple measures, like remembering to take contacts out at night, can prevent keratitis, the report authors said.

The authors, led by Michael J. Beach, PhD, of the CDC, wrote what they believed was the first national estimate of keratitis in the US.

The cornea is the thin, outermost layer of the eye. If it becomes infected and a patient develops keratitis, it can cause pain, swelling and, in severe cases, even blindness.

According to Christopher Quinn, OD, FAAO, president of Omni Eye Services in Iselin, NJ, the CDC report describes a serious public health issue.

“Keratitis is a potentially blinding condition but can often be effectively treated with antibiotics before corneal scarring and loss of vision occurs," he told dailyRx News. "There is a strong association with keratitis and the misuse of contact lenses. Contact lenses are medical devices and as such should only be used under the careful care provided by eye doctors. Proper hygiene, lens wearing schedules, careful evaluation of lens fit, and use of proper lens disinfection techniques can all minimize the potential to develop infectious keratitis.”

Pulling from a variety of data sources, Dr. Beach and team found that, in 2010, 930,000 Americans visited doctors' offices and outpatient clinics and 58,000 went to emergency rooms for problems related to their corneas — usually keratitis.

The study authors noted that most of the keratitis cases were in people who wore contact lenses for too long or did not care for them properly. Contact lenses need to be cleaned, kept free of water and stored in clean cases, they noted.

Using Medicare and Medicaid databases, the authors estimated that a physician office visit for keratitis cost $151 on average in 2010. An ER visit for the condition cost $587. Caring for keratitis overall cost about $174.9 million in 2010, Dr. Beach and team noted.

The authors wrote that people should care for their lenses to avoid eye health problems.

"Contact lenses can provide many benefits, but they are not risk-free — especially if contact lens wearers take shortcuts and don’t take care of their contact lenses and supplies," said study author Jennifer Cope, MD, in a press release. "Healthy habits mean healthy eyes."

This report was published Nov. 13 in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The CDC funded the research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
November 17, 2014
Last Updated:
November 19, 2014