Infection and contact lenses

Problems with contact lenses are thankfully rare but are more likely to occur if the recommended hygiene procedures are not followed. That's why it's important to listen carefully to the advice of your contact lens practitioner and always follow instructions on lens wear and care.

Occasionally you may experience mild discomfort or redness with your lenses. If discomfort is caused by a dirty, dusty or damaged lens, or by the lens being inside out, symptoms will usually improve when the lens is removed.

More serious problems (such as corneal infection, affecting the clear tissue at the front of the eye) are very unusual but can cause irritation, pain, redness, watery eyes or discharge. The eyes may also be sensitive to light and vision may be blurred. In almost all cases of infection, removing the contact lens does not relieve the symptoms.

Don't forget to ask yourself these three questions, each time you wear your lenses:
• Do my eyes feel good with my lenses? No discomfort
• Do my eyes look good? No redness
• Do I see well? No unusual blurring with either eye

If the answer to any of these questions is no, leave your lenses off and consult your eyecare practitioner immediately, who will advise you on what to do next.

Remember that contact lens-related infections of the cornea, the transparent front part of the eye, are rare, affecting only about four in 10,000 contact lens wearers per year. Vision loss due to corneal infection associated with contact lenses is less common and affects only six in 100,000 wearers annually.

Good hygiene and not wearing your lenses overnight are the most important factors in minimising the risk of infection. Poor hygiene increases the chance of an infection by four times. Sleeping in contact lenses overnight also increases the risk by about four times, irrespective of lens type. Your practitioner can discuss with you the pros and cons of lenses that are approved for extended wear. Avoid sleeping in your extended wear lenses if you're unwell.

Daily disposable lenses have a low rate of serious infection when used on a strict daily wear schedule. Literature suggests that smokers have a higher risk of infection: three times that of non-smokers.

Another risk factor is buying contact lenses over the internet, which may be related to contact lens care attitudes and behaviours. Wearers who buy lenses from sources other than their eye care practitioner have been shown to be less likely to follow good eyecare health practices, including being less likely to attend regular aftercare check-ups.

REMEMBER: If in doubt – taken them out.