WASHINGTON, Nov. 13 (UPI) -- According a new report by the CDC, nearly a million Americans visited a health care professional for an eye infection in 2010. Some 58,000 went to the emergency room. Almost all of them wear contact lenses -- but not properly.
Most contact lens wearers know you're not supposed to wear lenses to bed or leave them in for too long without cleaning them in solution or swapping them out for another pair. But that common sense is routinely ignored, thus keratitis.
Keratitis is the inflammation of the outer layer of the eye, the cornea, and it can be caused a bacterial, fungal or viral infection.
"People who wear contact lenses over night are more than 20 times more likely to get Keratitis," Jennifer Cope, a medical epidemiologist and CDC researcher, told The Washington Post. "Wearing contacts and not taking care of them properly is the single biggest risk factor for Keratitis."
For the 930,000 Americans who visited their doctor's office for microbial keratitis in 2010 -- and for the million or so who made similar visits each year since -- few suffered serious consequences. The problem is easily treated by doctors if caught early enough. But left unattended and keratitis can cause serious medical issues and even lead to blindness.
The CDC report suggests improper contact lens use costs Americans more than $175 million in direct health care expenditures each year.
"Contact lenses offer wearers good sight without the hassle of glasses, but they can also make wearers more prone to infection if they're not careful," Cope said in a press release. "Users should follow good hygiene and care steps every time they wear, clean and store their contacts to help keep their eyes healthy."
To prevent eye infections, the CDC recommends contact lens users do the following:
1. Wash hands with soap and water and dry well before touching contact lenses; 2. Take contacts out before bed, showering or swimming; 3. Rub and rinse contacts in disinfecting solution each time they remove them; 4. Rub and rinse the case with contact lens solution, dry with a clean tissue and store upside down with the caps off after each use; 5. Replace contact lens cases at least once every three months; 6. Do not "top off" solution in lens case; and 7. Carry a backup pair of glasses in case contact lenses have to be taken out.