There was just an article in the Wall Street Journal (http://www.wsj.com/articles/poor-contact-lens-hygiene-puts-users-at-risk-of-serious-infections-1441648413) that provided a list of poor hygiene practices for contact lens wearers, talked about the proportion of contact lens wearers that take these risky behaviors, and discussed the possible impacts of these poor hygiene practices.
The numbers are notable. According to the article there are over 40 million contact lens wearers in the United States. And, according to a CDC survey, ninety-nine percent of contact lens wearers reported at least one questionable practice.
For disclosure, I am a contact lens wearer and I will occasionally shower with my contact lenses in. Why? Because I started wearing contacts mostly due to the fact that running in glasses is not fun. I run in the morning. I then take my shower and get on with my day. Since I use daily disposables, I don’t face any of the risks that are associated with wearing lenses that need to be stored. And since I actually dispose of my lenses each day, I don’t expose myself to any of the risks of sleeping in contacts and using them too long. I had actually not realized that just showering in contacts was a bad thing. But I’d literally get just an hour to three hours (depending on how long I’m running) use out of my contacts if I didn’t shower with them in. Still, there are risks associated with organisms that are in tap water that I expose my contacts to when I shower. Seems like a pretty low risk.
But then again, the risks described in the article also seemed pretty low to the people who experienced infections that leave them at risk of permanent damage.
And why are people willing to accept the risks? Because, as with many behaviors, it is about saving time (not having to take the contacts in and out and deal with cleaning) and money (replacing them less often than they should be).
So, for future contact lens development, anyone who can find a way to reduce the risk could make a lot of money.
And, it makes the discussion of a tradeoff between wearing contact lenses and undergoing laser surgery to correct refractive error and even more interesting discussion.
Finally, it gives eye health educators something to consider in how they talk with individuals who need contacts to help them grasp what the risks are and the importance of avoiding the risks where possible.
Do I expect everyone to avoid every risk? No, that is not human nature.
What I hope is that reading articles like the one in the Wall Street Journal or hearing from health educators will give contact lens wearers a better understanding of the risks so that they can make well reasoned decisions about the tradeoffs between different types of contact lenses and different behaviors with the contact lenses in.