Contact lenses infections

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: August 14th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Contact lens wearers are seeing their health in a different light after repeated warnings about a potentially blinding eye infection caused by the fungus Fusarium [foo-SAR-ee-um].

More than thirty-million Americans wear soft contact lenses. Every year, a tiny fraction of these people develop a severe inflammation of the cornea, known as keratitis [care-ah-TIE-tiss]. Fungal keratitis is rare but can occur if lenses are worn overnight or are improperly cleaned or stored.

This year, keratitis has affected an unusually high number of people. Many cases were linked to a popular cleansing solution that has since been pulled off the market worldwide. An investigation into the outbreaks revealed that certain components of the solution encourage growth of the fungus Fusarium.

Fusarium lives in soil and plants. A dirty finger or a stray leaf can deliver the fungus into the eye. As the fungus multiplies, the eye becomes inflamed, causing blurred vision, sensitivity to light, redness and tearing. Without treatment, the cornea can be permanently damaged, requiring a transplant to prevent blindness.

Health officials stress that proper sanitation is required to reduce all risk of infection. Experts recommend washing your hands before touching lenses. Clean lenses regularly and store them in fresh solution, and replace lenses and the case at recommended intervals.

Avoid wearing contacts overnight, even if they are approved for that use. And if you experience unusual pain or redness in your eye, don’t delay… see to it that you call your doctor immediately.