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Contacts Cause the Majority of Eye Infections in the U.S., Study Finds

Update Date: Nov 14, 2014 10:28 AM EST

For many Americans, contacts are a necessity. Even though millions of Americans use them everyday, not everyone is using them properly. Due to misuse, such as leaving them in too long or forgetting to clean them, contacts can be tied to almost one million eye infection cases, a new federal study reported.

"There is no question that many people love to use contact lenses instead of spectacles. Using contact lenses, however, does carry the risk of infection and, in extreme cases, blindness," Dr. Alfred Sommer is a professor of ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins University's Wilmer Eye Institute in Baltimore commented.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 930,000 doctor visits and 58,000 emergency department visits tied to microbial keratitis in 2010. Microbial keratitis is an infection that occurs when the transparent covering of the eye, known as the cornea, becomes contaminated by bacteria, fungi, amebae or viruses. Symptoms include redness, eye pain, blurred vision, and in severe situations, blindness.

"People who wear their contact lenses overnight are more than 20 times more likely to get keratitis," Dr. Jennifer Cope, a CDC medical epidemiologist, stated according to WebMD.

The researchers reported that microbial keratitis is most commonly caused by the improper use of eye contacts. The team stressed the importance of educating people about the risks involved with contact lens. Overall, 76.5 percent of the visits resulted in a prescription for antibiotics. The total annual costs from these visits were estimated to be around $175 million.

"Contact lenses can provide many benefits, but they are not risk-free especially if contact lens wearers take shortcuts and don't take care of their contact lenses and supplies," Dr. Cope said in a statement reported by FOX News.

In order to reduce risk of microbial keratitis, the researchers recommend contact users to always wash their hands prior to touching their lenses, remove their contacts before sleeping, showering or swimming, clean the lenses with disinfecting solution when storing contacts, replace old-contact solutions and replace lenses when needed.

The report was published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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