Improper Care of Contact Lenses Can Cause Serious Eye Infections

Nearly one in five contact lens-related eye infections reported to a federal database involved a patient who experienced eye damage, according to a CDC report published on August 18, 2016. Keratitis (inflammation of the cornea) can result from contact lens wear or other causes. Keratitis from all causes, including contact lens wear, results in approximately one million clinic and emergency department visits annually, with an estimated cost of $175 million in direct health care expenditures in 2010. In 2014, over 99% of contact lens wearers surveyed reported at least one behavior that puts them at risk for a contact lens-related eye infection.


The infections, submitted to the FDA’s Medical Device Report Database, included patients who had a scarred cornea, needed a corneal transplant, or otherwise suffered a reduction in vision. These contact lens-related eye infections can lead to long-lasting eye damage but are often preventable.


“Contact lenses are a safe and effective form of vision correction when worn and cared for as recommended,” said Michael Beach, Ph.D., director of the CDC’s Healthy Water Program. “However, improper wear and care of contact lenses can cause eye infections that sometimes lead to serious, long-term damage.”


Contact lens manufacturers, eye care providers, and patients can report adverse events related to contact lens use to the FDA, which regulates contact lenses as medical devices. The report reviewed 1,075 contact lens-related infections reported to the FDA between 2005 and 2015.


More than 10 percent of the reports indicated that the patient went to an emergency department or urgent care clinic for immediate care. Whether eye infections are minor or lead to long-lasting damage, they can be painful and disrupt daily life. For instance, the reports describe patients’ daily visits to an eye doctor or hourly administration of eye drops to treat the infection.


Contact lens wearers can help prevent infections by properly using lenses and supplies and following directions on the lens labels. More than one out of four reports of infections mentioned easily avoidable behaviors that increase the chance of getting an eye infection, such as wearing contact lenses while sleeping and wearing them longer than recommended.


“Around 41 million people in the United States wear contact lenses and benefit from the improved vision and comfort they provide,” said Jennifer Cope, M.D., M.P.H., medical epidemiologist in the CDC’s Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch. “While people who get serious eye infections represent a small percentage of those who wear contacts, they serve as a reminder for all contact lens wearers to take simple steps to prevent infections.”


The findings in this report highlight the need for contact lens wearers to take good care of their lenses to help prevent contact lens-related eye infections.


Three recommendations related to commonly reported and risky behaviors:


  • Don’t sleep in contact lenses without discussing with your eye doctor. Sleeping in contact lenses increases the chance of an eye infection by six to eight times.
  • Don’t top off, or add new contact lens solution to old solution that has been sitting in the case. Adding new solution to used solution can lower germ-killing power.
  • Replace your contact lenses as often as recommended by your eye doctor. People who do not replace their lenses as often as recommended have more complications and report more eye problems than those who follow the replacement recommendations.


See the CDC Announcement


See the CDC Report


See also Medical Law Perspectives, July 2014: Injuries Resulting From Laser Procedures: Risks for Physicians, Technicians, and Manufacturers


See also Medical Law Perspectives, March 2013: When Cataract Treatment Creates More Harm Than Cure: Malpractice Liability Issues


See the Medical Law Perspectives April 3, 2015, Blog: Contact Lens Not Subject to Recall But Manufactured in the Same Facility, and Having Same Material Defect, Could Not Be Basis for Manufacturer’s Liability