Poor contact lens care can lead to infection

Press contact: Julia Jones – 020 7566 2628

Moorfields Eye Hospital is seeing a rise in the number of cases of severe and rare eye infections, some of which are caused by infections related to poor contact lens care.

To raise awareness of the risk to healthy eyes of bacterial infections and other more severe infections, Moorfields is running a campaign in September 2014 based around the dos and don’ts of contact lens care.

Timed to coincide with the run-up to freshers’ weeks at universities and colleges across the country – at a time when thousands of young people are preparing to leave home for the first time – the campaign aims to target those leaving home to provide information on healthy contact lens habits.

Take a look at our campaign pages for more information >>

As well as raising the profile of contact lens care among the student population, Moorfields plans to engage with opticians to reinforce the need to encourage good practice to new and established contact lenses wearers.

A package of materials including short video case studies highlighting the difference in attitudes and lack of awareness around good contact lens care that opticians might face have been prepared by a research fellow and a team from the National Institute of Health Research biomedical research centre at Moorfields and the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology.

You can watch this video of our case study Sairia, who discusses her experience of a contact lens related infection >>

Moorfields consultant Professor John Dart, a leading expert in external eye diseases said: “We need to highlight the risk of the severe eye diseases that poor contact lens care or simply being unlucky enough to pick up an infection can bring.

“Corneal infections can be extremely serious, and may involve undergoing corneal operations and/or taking powerful agents to kill the infection. The impact on a person’s life can be immense. There is also the added emotional stress of living with the knowledge and fear that you could lose some of your sight."

The risk factors for bacterial contact lens-related infections have been extensively studied and include:

  • Being young
  • Being male
  • Smoking
  • Poor lens care hygiene
  • Sleeping in contact lenses (unless advised by an optician)
  • The number of days worn each week

The diseases that contact lens wearers can be at risk of include: 

Corneal infection (known as microbial keratitis) in contact lens wearers affects around 4 per 10,000 wearers each year and is mainly caused by bacteria, which stick to contact lenses and readily form biofilms – conglomerates of microorganisms that become more resistant and harmful.

Acanthamoeba keratitis is a more rare form of microbial keratitis, occurring in around 2 per 100,000 wearers per year, although it varies regionally. It is a more severe form of infection and 85% of cases occur in contact lens wearers who are otherwise fit and healthy.

Fungal keratitis occurs most often in people who sustain eye injuries from agricultural or gardening accidents, ocular surface disease and those with immunosuppression, but can also occur with contact lens wear. This infection, like acanthamoeba keratitis is one of the severest forms of corneal infection that can occur in contact lens wear.

These diseases can be contracted anywhere in the UK, and the risk of infection is raised if people:

  • Wear contact lenses in the shower or when  swimming
  • Sleep in lenses (unless your optician has told you to do that)
  • Do not wash or dry their hands before touching their contact lenses
  • Leave their lenses in water overnight or spit on them when they are dry or have fallen out of the eye
  • Over wear their lenses, even disposable ones

Researchers from Moorfields have been working colleagues at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, the University of Leicester, the NIHR biomedical research centre and a motivated group of contact lens wearers who have experienced corneal infections to raise this awareness. They have also been working with the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in America to share data on infections as well as campaign messages developed in the USA.

Editors’ Notes

  • Moorfields is one of the world’s leading eye hospitals, providing expertise in clinical care, research and education. We have provided excellence in eye care for more than 200 years and we continue to be at the forefront of new breakthroughs and developments.  We are an integral part of one of the UK’s first academic health science centres, UCL Partners, and also one of the new academic health science networks. We were one of the first NHS organisations to achieve foundation trust status in 2004. 
  • We treat the entire range of eye diseases, from common complaints to rare conditions which require treatments not available anywhere else in the UK. We deal with more than half a million attendances every year in our 23 locations in and around London, enabling us to provide expert care closer to patients’ homes.
  • With our research partners at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, we run one of the largest ophthalmic research programmes in the world and have the highest measure of scientific productivity and impact in the world for our research activity.

For further information, please visit www.moorfields.nhs.uk.

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