Contact Lens Dangers:

Underpublicized Dangers of Contact Lenses

By Dr. Ben Kim

According to two studies out of the U.K., wearing daily disposable contact lenses or contact lenses that are supposed to allow more oxygen into the eyes does not lead to a lowered risk of developing dangerous eye infections.

Regardless of what type of contact lenses are used, the biggest risk factor for developing a painful infection of the cornea called microbial keratitis is sleeping with contact lenses on.

Dr. John Dart, an ophthalmologist who led one of the studies in question, states that if you wear contact lenses overnight, you increase your risk of infection by a factor of five.

Contact lenses that are supposed to allow more oxygen to reach the eyes - called silicone hydrogel contact lenses - were introduced in 1999, around the same time that daily disposable contact lenses were introduced. It was hoped by many in the industry that these newer lenses would decrease risk of users developing microbial keratitis, but the two recent studies out of the U.K. - published in the October 2008 issue of Ophthalmology - indicate that these lenses do not decrease risk of infection.

Microbial keratitis occurs in approximately 1 out of 2000 contact lens users. Though many people fully recover from bouts of microbial keratitis, this condition can cause vision loss, and in some cases, the loss is permanent.

Why I Generally Don't Recommend Wearing Contact Lenses

The cornea (white part) of your eyes is innervated by the trigeminal nerve, a cranial nerve that sends a signal to your brain whenever the slightest amount of pressure is applied to your cornea. When your brain receives this signal, it sends a message out to your eyelids via a different cranial nerve, called your facial nerve, telling your eyelids to drop down to protect your eyes.

This loop of electrical activity occurs within milliseconds, and is called your corneal reflex - it's what causes your eyelids to instantaneously drop down whenever an object suddenly comes flying at your eyes.

Put another way, your corneal reflex exists to protect your eyes against damage that can be caused by direct physical trauma to your eyes. And whenever you put contact lenses on your eyes, you are teaching your body to ignore your corneal reflex.

Does your corneal reflex weaken over time with repeated use of contact lenses? Does a diminished corneal reflex lead to a decrease in eye and overall health over the long term?

No one has definitive answers to these questions. But in my mind, it's never wise to engage in any activities that go against our natural design. And having our eyes learn to get used to wearing contact lenses clearly disrespects the corneal reflex that all of us are born with.

One other reason why I feel that wearing contact lenses is bad for eye health is that contact lenses may disrupt the natural sloughing off of dead cells from the surface of your eyes, which may increase your risk of experiencing eye infections.

If You Absolutely Must Wear Contact Lenses...

If you must wear contact lenses for one or more reasons, be sure to at least make sure that you never wear them to sleep, even for short naps. Also, be sure to meticulously follow cleaning instructions from your eye care professional and from the manufacturer of the cleaning solution(s) that you use. With the worst case scenario being permanent vision loss, it makes sense to follow these guidelines without fail.

Please consider sharing this article with family and friends who wear contact lenses for cosmetic purposes only. Thank you.

Dr. Ben KimImprove Your Health With Our Free E-mail Newsletter

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