An eye expert has warned young people are leaving themselves vulnerable to serious infections through “lazy” attitudes towards contact lens care.
Parwez Hossain, a consultant ophthalmologist at Southampton General Hospital’s eye unit, is calling for people to take notice of simple safety advice to prevent permanent damage.
“Young people still tend to be quite relaxed and carefree when it comes to the appropriate hygiene standards required for wearing contact lenses and that is reflected in the higher number of people under 50 being treated for severe cases of corneal infection,” he said.
There are around 1,200 new cases of contact lens-related infection microbial keratitis each year in the UK’s three million wearers and results of a recent patient audit at the eye unit in Southampton showed the number of infections were higher among the common lens-wearing ages of 20 to 40 year-olds.
“Our own audit data shows that severe corneal infections occur in a younger age group and are less common in children and people aged 50 to 70 years – which suggests people are possibly being lazy and not following professional advice in the cases involving lens users,” added Mr Hossain, a specialist in cornea and external eye disease.
Although opticians and ophthalmologists have consistently voiced safety concerns, he believes the lack of awareness of the dangers of poor care among the public is still endemic.
“It may seem as though we are rehashing old warnings, but the fact is people have become much more liberal with lenses and, when coupled with an explosion of cheap online stores in the last five to ten years, the consequences can be grim,” he explained.
“There is a risk with buying lenses online and that is inadequate after-care – there are some companies that do organise this but many more that don't.”
Mr Hossain said the main consequence of poor judgement when purchasing products online is the heightened risk of developing chronic red eye, progressing to infection or ulceration.
“The main issue in patients wearing lenses without supervision is chronic red eye, which is usually caused by inadequate contact lens hygiene, intolerance due to solution reactions, protein lens deposits, undiagnosed chronic allergic eye disease and overwear.
“All these causes of red eye may lead to increased chances of corneal infection/ulceration or corneal vascularisation, and a lack of professional guidance means the chances of the above occurring become more likely.”
He added that two studies conducted in Australia and America have highlighted the risks of buying lenses over the internet, while an audit performed at Southampton’s eye unit discovered a number of patients presenting to eye casualty had bought online.
Mr Hossain, who is also a member of the scientific committee of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, believes it is time to refresh the simple safety steps that have been forgotten in recent years, including the need to strictly adhere to lens lifespan.
“The most important factor is personal hygiene and correct wear/usage. There is a need to ensure people follow instructions – do not reuse beyond the time indicated, i.e. daily is daily only, monthly is monthly only.
“We see people who wear daily lenses more than once or monthly users who store old lenses to reuse, those who wear their lenses swimming and in the shower where bugs can attach and spread, people washing lenses and lens cases with tap water and people keeping the same lens case for over a month – all of this can and should be avoided.”
He added: “Surreptitious dangers surround the contact lens user and are easily missed – germs rest on hands if not properly washed and dried, cases crack and allow bugs to set and grow over time in the crevices and people who live in hard water areas are at increased risk of infection if they wash cases with tap water.”
In addition, ophthalmologists are also preparing for a rush of attendances at eye casualty over the summer months, as contact lens users fail to look after their eyes while on holiday.
“I would urge people to take extra care while on holiday, particularly in very warm countries. It is very common for us to see people after they return from holiday suffering from infection and often requiring hospital admission. This can generally be traced back to swimming, showering or a general lack of hand hygiene.”
Posted on Monday 5 July 2010