Amarillo, TX - A common eye infection is costing millions in health care costs and poor contact lens hygiene is to blame, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nearly one million people visit the doctor for an eye infection called keratitis each year and the CDC report said most of them are contact wearers.
Keratitis is an infection of the cornea that causes inflammation and can even lead to blindness. "Light sensitivity, pain, a discharge can develop and the eyes get really red," said Broome Optical optometrist Dr. Jimmy Martin, explaining the symptoms.
The CDC estimates the infection accounts for $175 million in direct health care costs each year - a hefty cost that could be reduced by taking simple steps when it comes to your contacts. "Wash your hands with soap and water before you touch the lenses, whether you're putting them in or taking them out," said Dr. Martin.
Dr. Martin said one of the biggest mistakes people make is sleeping in your contacts or leaving them in for a prolonged period of time. "A contact lens reduces the amount of oxygen flowing to the cornea, and the cornea will sort of rebel. The rebel is called keratitis. It becomes a little bit inflamed and it really doesn't like that contact lens being on there because there is a lack of oxygen. If you remove the lens, a lot of times the keratitis will just clear up in a few days by itself."
Another common offense is not changing the case you store your contacts in. "We really recommend you replace those cases once a month, but sometimes people don't," said Dr. Martin. "In fact, most people don't. They don't really think about what's building up inside that case."
Bacteria on lenses is why using water instead of solution to clean contacts is also problematic. "You introduce pathogens from our water supply on to the contact, you're then putting it on to your eye so you're opening yourself up to more types of infectious processes," said Dr. Martin.
Although treating keratitis is fairly simple if it is caught early enough, the CDC said the average cost of a doctor's visit for the infection is about $151 dollars and about $587 for an emergency room visit.