New research has found that if you wear contact lenses for 10 years, you’re six times more likely to develop a sight-threatening infection than if you’d had laser eye surgery. Can you radically reduce these risks by ditching contact lenses and opting to go under the laser to correct your vision instead? According to scientists at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis, USA, you can.
What is microbial keratitis?
The condition is caused when the cornea, the clear, curved window at the front of the eye, becomes invaded by either bacteria, fungi or harrowing parasitic amoeba. This infection subsequently causes an ulcer.
This ulcer, if left untreated, can leave someone blind.
What did the study find?
The study, carried out by the university’s Hamilton Eye Institute and Department of Ophthalmology, looked specifically at LASIK ‘laser in situ keratomileuses’ surgery, which works by changing the curvature of the cornea.
American experts have discovered that instances of microbial keratitis were higher with extended-wear contact lenses, as opposed to daily wear ones. Lead author of the study Dr Jordan Masters concluded:
“Microbial keratitis can be a devastating ocular event. Contact lenses have traditionally been considered safer than refractive surgery as a means of correcting the refractive error; however, recent analyses and dialogue have questioned this assumption.”
After a thorough investigation, Dr Masters revealed that a comparison of post-Lasik patients and contact wearers showed that contact lens wear had on average 12 more cases of the devastating infection per 10.000 at 1 year.
Overall, the study found that contact lenses have long been described as a major cause of microbial keratitis.
The dangers of contact lenses:
Dr David Allamby, one of the UK’s leading laser eye surgeons and medical director here at Focus, says many of the 3.5million people in the UK who wear contact lenses are simply unaware of the dangers they pose. He continues to say that contact lenses need to be treated with great care and the dangers of using them – which often go ignored.
The majority of people who wear contact lenses don’t use proper hygiene methods, and this alone puts them at risk of eye infections. 1 in 3 contact lens wearers said they had suffered from red eyes that were painful and required a visit to a specialist as a result of general wear. Just putting contact lenses in wrong can lead to a buildup of bacteria behind the lens that may lead to ulcers, abrasions, reduced vision and even blindness.
Dr David Allamby also noted that: “In fact, another recent Australian study showed the chance each year of getting an infected corneal ulcer or abscess is 1 in 2000. Over 10 years of wearing contact lenses, this means there’s a 1 in 200 chance of a potentially serious or even sight-threatening infection. Compare that 1 in 200 chance with contact lenses to LASIK laser eye surgery, where the risk of infection is fifteen times lower at 1 in 3,000.”
The most extreme form of microbial keratitis is called acanthamoeba and it can be particularly destructive. An organism that physically burrows down into the cornea and stubbornly refuses to let go which is extremely dangerous and is almost impossible to eradicate fully. Acanthamoeba keratitis can be treated with a combination of steroids and an anti-infection agent.
What can I do?
As a suggestion, we advise that all contact lens wearers take their levels of hygiene around wearing their contacts very seriously. The guidelines on the back of the contact lens packet should be followed with caution, and you should regularly rest your eyes by wearing glasses when you can.