The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warns in a new report that people who wear contact lenses and don’t care for them properly risk developing serious infections.
About 41 million Americans wear contact lenses, and people get so used to having them in their eyes, they either forget about them or don’t believe they’re at risk for injury and infection if they don’t use them as directed.
According to the CDC’s report, 1 in 5 lens-related eye infections reported to a federal database involved a patient who experienced eye damage.
Michael Beach, Ph.D., director of CDC’s Healthy Water Program, said in a statement:
“Contact lenses are a safe and effective form of vision correction when worn and cared for as recommended. However, improper wear and care of contact lenses can cause eye infections that sometimes lead to serious, long-term damage.”
What the CDC Uncovered
For the report, researchers looked at more than 1,000 contact lens-related infections reported to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) between 2005 and 2015. Some of the patients required a corneal implant to repair a scarred cornea, while others suffered reduced vision.
Of the reports they reviewed, 10% of the incidents involved a visit to an emergency department or urgent care clinic.
As the researchers point out, it doesn’t take much to cause excruciating eye pain that can disrupt your daily life. Many documented cases involved patients who had to make daily visits to an eye doctor, or apply eye drops every hour to treat the infection.
I had a friend who narrowly avoided having a corneal transplant after she somehow stabbed herself in the eye with a straw that was sticking out of her drink while she was unlocking her car door. However, a large number of the injuries reviewed by the CDC – more than 1 in 4 – could have been easily prevented using (I hate to say it) common sense.
These easily avoidable behaviors included wearing contact lenses while sleeping, and wearing them for longer than recommended.
According to the CDC, sleeping with your contact lenses in increases your risk of infection by 6 to 8 times. 
Dr. Mark Fromer, an ophthalmologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, explained:
“There is a serious health crisis with contact lens-related eye injuries. Unfortunately, many of the 41 million contact lens users in the United States do not think of a contact lens as a medical device they are placing on the surface of their eye.”
Other mistakes contact wearers made included using tap water instead of disinfectant solution to clean their lenses, or using old disinfectant solution – a move which Thomas Steinemann, a clinical spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, called “a terrible idea.” 
According to Steinemann, disinfectant solution loses its potency over time, and can harbor bacteria. It’s best to dump out the solution, clean out the case with a little extra solution, and let it air dry.
Showering or swimming with your lenses in, or hanging onto your storage case for too long are also no-nos.
Safety Tips for People Who Wear Contacts
The American Optometric Association has a few safety recommendations for people who wear contact lenses: 
- Visit your eye doctor every year.
- Buy your contact lenses from a trusted source. Poorly fitting contact lenses can significantly damage the eyes and could lead to irreversible vision loss.
- Don’t freak out if you “lose” a lens in your eye. If your contact has moved and is not visible, put a few eye drops in your eye, look away from where you feel the lens, and lift your eyelid. Once you spot the lens, use the tip of your finger to remove it. If this keeps happening, see your eye doctor so he can check the fit of your lenses.
- Never share contact lenses with another person. Sharing lenses means sharing germs and bacteria that may lead to infection. You wouldn’t chew someone else’s gum, would you? Plus, your friend’s contacts may not be the right size for your eyes.
- Don’t use tap water to rinse your contact lenses. Tap water doesn’t remove mucus, secretions, films, or deposits as well as contact fluid does. Tap water also contains bacteria and other microorganisms that can cause serious infections.
- Keep your lens case clean. Rinse your case with solution, and store it upside down and open to dry fully. Purchase a new case every 3 months.
- Never, ever sleep with your contact lenses in.
- Never over-wear your lenses.
 CBS News