Can contact lenses damage your eyes?

Published: October 1, 2012
Eye doctors say contact lenses may be the most dangerous invention for eye care. DESIGN: JAMAL KHURSHID

Eye doctors say contact lenses may be the most dangerous invention for eye care. DESIGN: JAMAL KHURSHID


Just like most people who wear contact lenses, Maheen, a mother of two, developed an eye infection after she wore her contacts at a party for about eight hours. Little did she know that things were going to take a turn for the worse.

“I did not take it seriously first,” says Maheen. “My doctor told me it’s a bacterial infection and I used medicines for two-months but to no avail. By the time I went to the fifth eye doctor, my eye was worse, with a greyish white spot in my cornea. That’s when doctors told me that I have lost my eye permanently,” she says.

Fortunately, one doctor gave her a ray of hope when he said there may be a bleak chance that her eye could be saved, but said that she had contracted a fungal keratitis infection, a painful infection of the cornea that can lead to blindness if not treated. Maheen went on an intensive seven-month treatment which involved putting eyedrops every two hours. “The medicine was formulated, so I had to go every third day to the Aga Khan University Hospital to buy it. “I could not go near the stove or look after my two girls,” she says, adding that since the infection had distorted her eye, she was reluctant to meet people.

For this reason, if an ophthalmologist were to define the most dangerous invention for eye care, he would simply say contact lenses, says Dr Jamal Mughal, a consultant eye surgeon.  “It is an extremely misused medical device,” he says, adding that people are now using contacts cosmetically instead of as a necessity. The sale of disposable contact lenses has also increased their accessibility to a greater population, with contacts being  sold at prices that range from Rs150 to Rs4,000.

Dr Qazi Wasiq, the medical director of Pakistan Eyebank Society Hospital, says that the biggest malpractice is that opticians are now prescribing contacts to people instead of ophthalmologists.  “A contact lense is a medical device that is prescribed on certain indications or for very high power vision weaknesses only.”

The perils

Dr Wasiq says that the indiscriminate use of contact lenses can harm the eye, causing problems such as corneal ulcers, corneal abyss, corneal opacity or corneal blindness. If there is an infection on the axis, it may leave a scar even if it heals. If that scar is on the side, vision will not be affected but if it is in the central cornea, vision will be harmed.  Two to five per cent of contact lens users face any one of the above mentioned problems.

Contact lenses cover our cornea, stopping the oxygen supply to it for hours at a stretch. Prolonged use can cause dryness of the cornea and abrasions, small cuts made by the lens that can cause infections resulting in permanent harm, says Dr Mughal. The most common and serious infection is keratitis, an infection of the cornea (the clear, round dome covering the eye’s iris and pupil). In severe cases, it can lead to corneal scarring that impairs vision, and may lead to the need for a cornea transplant. Keratitis can have multiple causes, including herpes (virus), bacteria, fungus and microbes.

He said that the symptoms of contact lens-related infections may include blurry vision, unusual redness of the eye, pain in the eye, tearing or discharge from the eye, increased light sensitivity or the sensation of irritation.  He said that while there is no data in Pakistan about the number of cases, a study conducted in Karachi during 2006 to 2010 and published in 2011, shows that 68 per cent cases of infection due to contact lens result in visual loss.

Do remember to check the following

•  A lens must be properly sterilised and must be made by a recognised and reliable manufacturer.

•  It should be handled with clean hands and the casing must be cleaned and replaced regularly.

•  A user must discontinue use and immediately consult an eye care practitioner if symptoms of pain, blurred vision, redness, increased tearing or photophobia occur.

•  Rub, rinse and disinfect lenses after every use (except in the case of daily disposable lenses, which should be discarded after being worn once).

•  Air-dry the storage case and keep dry when lenses are being worn.

•  Apply your lenses before putting on make-up and before using hairspray and perfume.

•  Lenses should not be used for more than four hours for cosmetic lenses and 10 to 12 hours for extended wear.

Do not

•  Use tap water, saliva or already used disinfecting solution on lenses

•  Sleep with contacts in your eyes

•  Switch the type of solution you use except on the advice of your practitioner

•  Wear lenses if you are swimming or engaging in any water sport, without goggles.

•  Share your contact lenses with anyone

•  Use rose water or betnisol eye drops in case of discomfort as these agents can be extremely dangerous for your eye and may lead to blindness and permanent disability 

The alternative

Doctors say that spectacles are the best solution for weak vision. If not, there is always the option of laser surgery that can cure the defect, says Dr Wasiq.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 2nd, 2012.

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Reader Comments (7)

  • Oct 2, 2012 - 2:24AM

    In other news, the sky is falling!


  • Slumbai
    Oct 2, 2012 - 4:39AM

    Google: Anthony Mundine, He was an Australian (muslim, just for the pan-islamists out there…i know you’re reading this :-) Boxer,

    He tried to clean his contact lens with his mouth, and got a similar infection to the woman in this article.


  • Arman
    Oct 2, 2012 - 11:34AM

    Helath dept should ban the non branded & low profile, which are being sold at optical stores very commonly now a days at very cheaper rates.


  • Sara Pervaiz
    Oct 2, 2012 - 8:57PM

    The article concludes with remarks that there is always the option of laser surgery that can cure the defect. What about the risks associated with laser surgery? Laser correction entails a much higher chance of complications. Laser surgery for refractive correction has been around for no more than 15 years and is undergoing rapid evolution and refinement. It is certain that in the next 15 years refractive laser technology will be completely different from what it is today. Contact lenses, on the other hand, have achieved their design maturity almost 60 years ago. They are tried and tested and their complications are well documented. The article mentions a complcations rate of 2%-5%, and later, an astouding 68%!! In medicine, risks are measured not in per cent but in per thousand. Any serious risks, specially those that result in permanent damage, are not acceptable if they cross the 10 per thousand mark (needs verification??). Even 2%-5% would warrant a strict ban on any such device. Contact lenses have been approved the US FDA for decades and are freely prescribed in the US and Europe. Misuse of any device has its complications. The article should have been written from the perspective of misuse, rather than labelling faulty the device itself.


  • sheikh fahad sultan
    Oct 3, 2012 - 1:56PM

    this is soo good information that u shared with us. actually i hve been using lenses from a loong time n i had a problem once bt i consult with a doctor and now m feeling good and i still use lenses but not soo frequently.there is one thning i wanna ask n which is how could i make my eyes brighter?Recommend

  • Sara Pervaiz
    Oct 3, 2012 - 7:22PM

    @sheikh fahad sultan:

    You could try using coloured lenses if you want to make your eyes look brighter.Recommend

  • vajih
    Oct 9, 2012 - 1:22AM

    The article is bit too exaggerated.Contact lenses have been around for decades and extensively used worldwide; predominantly in one of the most health conscious markets like US,Europe and Japan. A Study showed that 68 per cent cases of infection due to contact lens result in visual loss!! Quite honestly sounds absolutely too high a figure. Considering a large user base in pakistan, whole country would have freaked out if above had been the case.

    A normal contact lens reduces the oxygen supply to eye, however if worn and cared for safely as per practitioners’ guidelines, it does not create any problem
    Doctors here also need to get updated regarding developments in contact lens field. The new generation silicone hydrogel contact lenses are also available in the market which provide 5-6 times MORE than the the old generation lenses; exceeding the oxygen requirement required for eye.

    There is indeed a lot of malpractice in Pakistan and that DOES NEED to be stopped. Especially the menace of sub standard contact lens solution widely in use needs to be regulated. The key is to educate people regarding lens safe use consumer level.


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