The most dreaded complication of contact lens use is corneal infections.
What is a cornea?
The cornea is a transparent layer on the surface in front of the eye. Under normal circumstances, the cornea is pretty resistant to infections. However, this resistance of the cornea may be compromised by injury or trauma such as a puncture from a sharp object, allowing bacteria or fungi to fester and grow. A unique feature of the cornea is that it does not hold any blood vessels, thus there is no blood circulating in the area, carrying the cells from the body’s immune system to fight off infections. Symptoms include painful inflammation and can lead to corneal scarring. In the most serious cases, keratitis can cause blindness in the patient.
Types of Corneal Infections
Infections may be bacterial, viral, fungal or protozoal.
The most prevalent type of keratitis (corneal infection) we come across is bacterial keratitis. It is most frequently encountered when the patient leaves his/her contact lenses on overnight. Falling asleep with your contact lenses on greatly increases the risk of a corneal infection. Thus it is every eye specialist’s recommendation that you remove your contacts daily, keep a regimen of thorough cleaning and rinsing habits, and always keep them in fresh contact solution.
Certain types viruses and fungi can also give rise to corneal infections. Bacteria is present everywhere, even in tap water. It is known that tap water can contain a type of bacteria that may cause corneal infections in those susceptible to it. Contact lens users are more at risk of developing this infection over those that do not use contact lenses. As such, do note that it is never a good idea to keep your contact lenses in tap water, even when your current bottle of contact lens solution has finished.
Corneal infections may or may not be infectious. Non-infectious corneal infections can arise from:
- Eye trauma or injury from scratches or sharp object
- Allergies arising from substances on contact lenses
- Certain chemicals, even those contact lens solutions
- Dry Eyes
Symptoms of a Corneal Infection
Possible symptoms of a corneal infection developing may include:
- Burning Sensation
- Increased sensitivity to light
- Watery Eyes
- Decreased Visual Acuity
- Crusty or discharge from eye
In some cases, location at which the infection takes is actually visible, forming a white spot on the eye. Contact lens users have to watch out for symptoms such as redness and irritation, as it may be a form of infectious keratitis. The depth of the infection directly correlates to how uncomfortable or painful the symptoms get. It is of utmost importance to contact your eye doctor immediately if you are a contacts lens user and experience the above-listed symptoms.
Specialized optical microscopes will be used to spot the location, depth and severity of the infection. In certain cases, your eye specialist may collect a sample for culture, to identify the source and type of infection.
Prescription anti-bacterial drops are usually given to those with minor or non-serious infections. For those with severe infections, stronger antibiotics or anti-fungal treatment will be needed to resolve the infections. Steroid drops may also be prescribed to relieve and control inflammation. Corneal infections may take multiple treatments to fully cure. Keeping frequent appointments with the eye specialist is highly recommended to ensure your condition steadily improves. If the infection progresses untreated or is particularly severe, it runs a risk of corneal scarring. This scarring may lead to loss of vision and possibly cause blindness.
Treatment for the corneal scar will require corneal transplant surgery.
It is always better to prevent an infection rather than to have to treat it. Contact lens hygiene is of utmost importance. In fact, we encourage the use of daily disposable contact lens to negate the need to wash your contact lenses. It is also prudent to avoid any contact with mud or dirty water when using your contact lenses.
Contact lens wearers run a higher risk of suffering from corneal infections, so proper hygiene and contact lens care is crucial. Never wear contact lenses to sleep. Soft contacts should be thrown away as instructed by your eye specialist. Usage protective eyewear is necessary during rigorous physical activities or those that run a risk of particles or other foreign bodies into the eye. Persons with an active lifestyle or those who indulge in sporting activity frequently should take extra care to avoid eye injury that could possibly result in keratitis.
The best way to treat an infection is to take care of it as soon as symptoms start showing. A regular schedule for eye checkups will spot problems or abnormalities. For healthy eyes, remember to schedule comprehensive eye exams every one to two years, as recommended by your doctor.
When to seek medical attention
Any signs of eye redness or irritation requires immediate medical attention to treat any early infection.