Bacteria is often regarded as an ugly word and often associated with sickness and disease. However, there is a good bacterium too. The good bacteria in the body work to fight diseases and infections which may be caused by bad bacteria.
The same goes for your eyes. There are a number of good bacteria in the eyes that prevent infections. But what happens when you mess with the balance of the bacteria in the eye? A recent study has suggested that contacts are introducing harmful bacteria into the eyes and disrupting the good bacteria.
Normal Eye Microbiota
Bacteria in the eye help to keep them functioning normally. The bacteria are normally found in the conjunctiva part of the eye. The conjunctiva is a type of mucus-like membrane that rests on the front of the eye and lines the inside of the eyelids.
What is disappointing is the lack of research done on these bacteria in the eye. Researchers know what kind of normal bacteria can be found in the eye, but are not sure what each specific microorganism does. Because of this, contacts are bringing in foreign bacteria and affecting the eyes negatively.
It seems as though doctors are more concerned with explaining what shouldn’t be in the eye, than what is already in the eye and why? However, this information can be quite useful in the treatment of infections and other eye conditions.
This isn’t to say that we know nothing of how the bacteria in the eyes work. A bacteriolytic (otherwise known as an antibiotic) enzyme called lysozyme lives in our tears. Microorganisms have difficulty surviving in lysozyme, which keeps them from settling in our eyes.
Foreign Bacteria Caused by Contact Lenses
We may not know much about normal bacteria in the eye but what we do know is that the use of contact lenses is introducing foreign and bad bacteria that cause infections in the eye. A recent study has shown that the use of contact lenses introduces normal bacteria from the skin into the eye. When this happens, it becomes a breeding ground for infections.
The exact way these skin bacteria are transferred into the eye has yet to be confirmed. Researchers are debating whether the cause is due to the contact between the finger and the contact lens when it’s inserted into the eye; or whether it is due to the contact lens allowing normal skin bacteria to attach to the eye.
The study found that the portion of cotton swab samples from contact lens wearers’ conjunctiva showed to be similar to a bacterial sample taken from the patients’ skin. In non-contact lens wearers, the bacteria found on the conjunctiva was more in line with normal eye bacteria.
With these new questions to answer, more studies and trials are on the horizon. The researchers behind the study don’t have any advice to give to contact wearers just yet. However, in light of this new study, we have a few things to suggest.
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Contact Lenses and Keratitis
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that over 30 million Americans are contact lens wearers. Of those wearers, between 40 and 90 percent do not properly follow their contact lens instructions. Based on this statistic, it comes as no surprise that 1 million people a year are affected by keratitis, resulting in doctor and hospital visits.
Keratitis can be caused by herpes, bacteria, fungus or microbes in the eye. When contacts or hands are unwashed, foreign bacteria can easily find a way into the eye. The contact lens facilitates the bacteria’s ability to nest on in the conjunctiva, which will eventually cause keratitis.
Keratitis is the most dangerous infection related to contact lens wearing. If left untreated and left to progress, keratitis can lead to possible corneal scarring. This will severely impair vision. The most common treatment for this is a cornea transplant.
The silver lining is that keratitis has a lot of symptoms that are easy to spot. If you’re a contact lens wearer and you notice abnormally blurry vision, pain and redness in the eye, unusual discharge or tearing in the eye, or increased light sensitivity, take your contacts out immediately and make an appointment with your eye doctor. It could save your vision.
With all that said, preventing keratitis and foreign bacteria from entering the eye is quite simple. The most extensive work you’ll need to do is force yourself to not be lazy when it comes to contact lens care.
Glasses are easy; you put them on and go. Contact lenses are a little more high maintenance. One way to take care of them is to make sure to wash them with contact lens solution before and after using them. Use the rub and rinse method before storing contact lenses.
Take the contact lens between your fingers and rub it with the solution, rinse with the solution, then submerge it in the solution. You can also rub and rinse contact lenses before putting them in your eyes.
Be sure to wash your hands well before you insert the contact lenses, take them out or need to adjust them. Even though fingers make no direct contact with the eye, if your fingers aren’t clean and touch the outside of the contact, the bacteria will remain on the inside of the eyelid. When contacts are taken out, the bacteria will enter the eye through the eyelids.
Don’t sleep with contacts. Unless specifically made to be worn continuously overnight, your contacts need to be taken out and cleaned. Keeping contact lenses in overnight that aren’t meant to will dry out your eyes.
Note that some vision conditions normally corrected with glasses or contact lenses like myopia or hyperopia can be corrected naturally with eye exercises. This way, you can avoid the whole fuss that comes with having to care for contacts.
If you absolutely need contact lenses, don’t put yourself at risk. Taking proper care of your contacts will keep your eyes’ natural bacteria in balance and your vision healthier than ever.