Thirty million people in the United States wear contact lenses and many of them do not follow the rules when it comes to proper lens use. Dr. Joseph Dolezal, owner of Innovations in EyeCare in Centralia, recently had two patients whose sight was compromised permanently due to contact lens misuse. Now, he is speaking out to our community to warn people of the dangers and how to prevent them.

“Damage from contact lenses can lead to permanent sight loss,” Dr. Dolezal explains. “Which is sad because it’s so preventable. I want to make sure the people in our community are aware that the danger is real and give them the information they need to avoid it.”

Innovations in Eye Care Dr. Dolezal
Dr. Dolezal warns that improper use and care with contact lenses can lead to problems. Photo courtesy: Innovations in EyeCare

One of his patients, a teenager, slept in his contacts. He went to the emergency room because he had a red eye and they gave him antibiotics for the infection, but they didn’t work. Dr. Dolezal got him in to a corneal specialist who stopped the infection within 24 hours, but the bacteria had already started creating a corneal ulcer (hole) in his eye, which blocks his vision dead-center. He will have to have a cornea transplant, which takes an entire year to recover from and his sight won’t be back to “normal” for 10 to 15 years.

Your cornea is a clear, living tissue that get its nutrients from liquids that bathe it when you blink and dumps debris into the fluid of the eye. A lens interferes with this process in a minimal way when it’s new, but as it gets dirty, it begins to block the flow of liquid more and more. This is what leads to an infection of the cornea.

“Yes, it’s variable,” he says. “We have had people who have slept in the old hard lenses and never had any trouble. But again, why take the chance that something could go wrong? These other patients have their eyes permanently scarred.” Dr. Dolezal adds that cornea infections due to contact lenses are not a rare issue that only happens to a handful of people, it’s a “real concern.”

Innovations in Eye Care
This picture shows a corneal ulcer or infection of the eye that Dr. Dolezal says happens when patients do not follow the directions for proper contact lens wear. Photo courtesy: Innovations in EyeCare

The other patient is a young mother who didn’t want to take her contact lenses out at night because she wouldn’t be able to see her kids should they need her. Now, she needs a corneal transplant, but she won’t get it done and continues to wear the lenses at night. She won’t even come back into the clinic to get the help she needs.

“According to the FDA, contact lenses are a ‘prescription drug’ and need to be treated as such,” Dr. Dolezal says. “This includes seeing your doctor and following the guidelines for the type of lens you have.”

Common Rules Contact Lens Wearers Break

If you wear contacts, you need to make sure you are not breaking these rules, which could cause a situation where you lose your sight or suffer damage to your eye.

  1. Yearly Eye Exams. Yearly exams are vitally important for the contact lens wearer because you need to make sure your ocular health is not adversely affected by your lenses. “This allows us to catch issues early,” Dr. Dolezal says. “It’s not always because you haven’t been following the rules. Some people’s eyes don’t have a metabolic rate that tolerates a contact lens on the eye.”
  1. Wearing Lenses Longer Than Prescribed. Different types are made to be worn for different lengths of time. For example, “daily wearers,” are only approved for 8 to 16 hours a day and then you need to remove them to give your eyes a chance to breathe (which it does even if your eye lid is closed).
Dr. Dolezal warns that dirty lenses do not allow your eye to breathe property. This picture shows a new blood vessel neovascularization or "invasion" into the cornea due to poorly breathing contact lenses. Photo courtesy: Innovations in EyeCare
Dr. Dolezal warns that dirty lenses do not allow your eye to breathe property. This picture shows a new blood vessel neovascularization or “invasion” into the cornea due to poorly breathing contact lenses. Photo courtesy: Innovations in EyeCare

“Sleeping in contacts means your eyes are never getting that break or a chance to breathe,” he adds. “This makes the eye more prone to swelling and edema. Which can lead to bacterial infection. That’s why we don’t like patients sleeping with just any lens or sleeping with them longer than what the FDA has approved them for – which is usually 1 to 30 days.”

  1. Give Your Eyes A Break. Once your contacts are used up, you need to give your eyes a rest, at least one night, before you put in a new pair. This will allow the swelling to come down and your eye to fight any infections.
  1. Allergy Sufferers Need to Change Lenses More Often. During allergy season, your tear glands secrete white blood cells to handle the pollen. They grab the pollen and pull it to the corner of your eye. All the extra pollen and dirt in your eye will gunk up your lens quicker, making you more at risk for an infection.
  1. Proper Cleaning. Make sure you are cleaning your lens properly and that you change your solution often because it gets dirty. “The hydrogen peroxide baths are the safest and the best,” Dr. Dolezal says. “They sterilize the contact lens and they neutralize quicker. You will have a lot less risk of infection with this type of cleaner.” He says to also make sure to use the cleaner your doctor prescribes, and not a generic brand. He says these brands change their formulas all the time and you might not be getting the same cleaner each time, which can lead to eye irritation.

The Safest Lenses

Contact lens solution
Proper cleaning can help reduce the occurrence of both a corneal ulcer and neovascularization. Dr. Dolezal recommends a hydrogen peroxide cleaning system for contact lenses. Photo courtesy: Innovations in EyeCare

The best choice, Dr. Dolezal says, are the “daily disposables” because they reduce the chance of infection to almost zero. “You don’t have to worry about chemical toxicity from cleaning solution or if you cleaned them well enough,” he adds. “And they have a moisturizing lubricant in them now so that every time you blink, your eyes are getting moisture. And then you can’t get corneal edema or swollen eyes.”

And finally, don’t buy contact lenses over the counter from the gas station. They are a prescription drug and need to be prescribed by a doctor. This goes for people with 20/20 vision that want colored eye lens just for fun. Dr. Dolezal notes that since these lenses have color, they do block more liquid and therefore should be worn for shorter periods and replaced more often.

To get your eyes checked and to make sure you are using your contact lenses properly to avoid permanent eye loss, contact Dr. Dolezal today though the Innovations in EyeCare’s website or by calling 360-736-7385.


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