YOU wear them to help you see better.
But keeping contact lenses in during showering and sleeping could make your eyesight even worse.
It could even lead to blindness, doctors have warned.
A study of 78 contact wearers in the UK, aged between 18 and 75, revealed the scale of the problem.
Analysis revealed that people who wore their contacts in the shower had a three times higher risk of developing a condition called “contact lens-related microbial keratitis” (CLMK).
The risk grew to seven-fold if people showered while wearing their contact lenses every day.
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CLMK is a bacterial infection of the cornea – the clear dome that covers the eye.
It causes pain, redness, blurred vision and sensitivity to light.
Severe cases can result in permanent vision loss and even loss of the eye.
CLMK occurs when bacteria attaches to, and replicates, on the contact lens. It can resist disinfectants and can survive in contact lens storage cases.
Fresh water from the shower or swimming contains bugs that most commonly cause these bacterial infections.
Roughly four million people wear contact lenses, of which 1,600 per year develop CLMK, according to the researchers at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.
Their study included 37 people who had suffered with CLMK, 43 per cent of whom said it had caused some vision loss.
Findings also showed that those who slept in their contact lenses had a three times greater risk of CLMK, and those aged 25 to 39 were most at risk of the infection.
Researchers explained that while the eyes are shut, there is a lack of oxygen to the contact lens, which can help bacteria attach.
How to use contact lenses safely
Looking after and using contact lenses properly is essential for keeping your eyes free from infections.
Make sure you always:
- Wash and dry your hands properly before handling your lenses
- Only wear them for the recommended amount of time
- Always have an up-to-date pair of glasses for when you take your contacts out
- Attend regular check-ups, even everything seems fine
- Get advice immediately if you have problems with your lenses like sore, red or swollen eyes
And make sure you never:
- Wear lenses, including novelty lenses, that weren’t properly fitted to your eyes
- Put water or saliva on your lenses or in your eye when you’re wearing them
- Put a dropped lens in your eye without cleaning it first
- Carry on wearing them if they feel or look bad, or if your vision blurs
- Use a lens if it looks damaged
- Sleep in your lenses (unless your practitioner says it’s OK to do so)
- Wear lenses while swimming or playing water sports
- Wear lenses in the shower or in a hot tub
- Wear someone elses contacts or share yours with anyone else
- Reuse a daily disposible lens
- Use eyedrops while wearing lenses, unless your practitioner tells you it’s safe to do so
They wrote in their paper published in the journal BMJ Open Ophthalmology: “Our study also shows that despite most contact lens wearers buying their lenses from opticians and having regular follow-up appointments, contact lens wearers continue to perform poor hygiene practices.
“These findings are rather confusing, as despite regular follow-up with opticians and perceived good concordance… patients’ understanding and retention of contact lens hygiene and risk behaviour remains low.”
Nearly half of all participants said they could not recall being told by their optician about the risk of infections when prescribed their contact lenses.
Parwez Hossain, associate professor of ophthalmology at the University of Southampton and study lead, said this was “concerning”.
He told the Telegraph: “Contact lenses for visual correction offer many benefits, yet contact lens-related microbial keratitis is a frequent cause of permanent visual impairment and some cases may even need a corneal transplant or lead to loss of the eye.”
Dr Louise Gow, specialist lead in eye health at the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), said: “Every day 250 people in the UK begin to lose their sight and RNIB welcomes any research that may help to prevent sight loss.
“This adds to the body of evidence that indicates that tap, shower or swimming pool water splashes can significantly increase the risk of serious infection for contact lens wearers.”
Experts stressed the importance of lens wearers to follow advice given to them and have regular check ups