The Damage of Contact Lenses

Ask any glasses-clad teenager what they want most—and we’re willing to bet it will be contacts. While they are a great idea for sporty kids, wearing contacts is not risk-free. 
The Dangers of Contact Lenses
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Contact lenses are thin, curved lenses placed on the surface of the eye. Though contacts are most frequently used for vision correction, they have also become increasingly popular for cosmetic purposes, particularly among young women and teenagers, explains Dr. Li Zhao of Beijing Aier Intech Eye Clinic. Traditionally, “fashion” contact lenses changed the color of the iris; now, you’ll frequently see young women wearing circle lenses that make the eye appear larger. Dr. Peter Xie refers to this style as the “baby doll” look, noting its particular popularity in China and other Asian countries. Occasionally, those suffering from scarring of the cornea, an aftereffect of corneal diseases and infections, will choose colored contacts to hide corneal scarring.
Risky Business 
The risk associated with both corrective and fashion contacts are three-fold. First, contacts are considered a foreign body that is placed on top of your eyeball, a particularly sensitive area. By covering up the cornea, contact lenses can block oxygen from reaching the eyes, which creates issues such as keratitis (inflammation of the cornea) and corneal abrasion (a small scratch or scrape on the cornea).
Additionally, wearing contacts can lead to dryness in the eye. Contact lenses “need to absorb a lot of water” to maintain their shape, says Dr. Zhao. Typically, that moisture comes from tears; and contacts often absorb these tears before they have a chance to reach the cornea, leaving your eyes dry and irritated.
Another important consideration, especially for those wearing fashion lenses, is the purchase of contacts from non-medical sources. Whether from online websites, street vendors or retail shops, contacts sourced from these locations, adds Dr. Zhao, are invariably of poor quality, with no guarantee of quality, cleanliness, or origin. Infections, such bacterial, fungal, and even amoeba infections, are common. In the most severe of cases, these infections can lead to blindness.  
Surprisingly, the medical team at Aier Intech is reluctant to prescribe contacts. They readily advise their patients to wear frame glasses, as they are incredibly safe and easily accessible. For patients who do not want to wear glasses, the medical team will typically advise undergoing laser eye surgery (popularly known as LASIK) instead. Contacts are prescribed as a last resort, as the office has simply seen too many infections to recommend them.
Safety First
If you do decide to wear contact lenses, there are things you can do to prevent adverse health outcomes. “The longer you wear contact lenses, the higher the risk of infection,” explains Dr. Zhao. She recommends wearing prescription contact lenses for no more than eight hours a day; and keeping the cornea moist by using preservative-free artificial tears to prevent dry eyes.
“Colored contacts, generally speaking, are slightly thicker than the regular ones,” adds Dr. Xie. He recommends that they should be worn for a maximum of three hours—and never daily.
Swimming with contact lenses is prohibited, as exposure to pool water is the easiest way to get an amoeba infection, for which there is currently no medicinal treatment. The doctors also suggest frequently changing your contact solution and packing your own towel for use when traveling.
If you feel any discomfort or irritation in your eyes, remove contacts immediately and see your eye doctor. As Dr. Xie says, “Contacts are a foreign body. If you don’t need it, we strongly urge you not to wear them.”


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