A new report out on the rise of eye infections in Americans is attributed to the misuse, improper wearing and cleaning of contact lenses. In total, a million cases of keratitis every years are blamed on contact lenses. Definitely makes me glad I use daily disposables.

Keratitis is an infection that affects the cornea, the clear dome that covers the colored part of your eye. In most cases it causes pain and inflammation. In severe cases, the infection can lead to blindness.

The largest risk factor among the 38 million Americans that wear contacts is the improper care of the lenses.

“Contact lenses offer many benefits, but they are not risk-free,” Dr. Jennifer Cope, a CDC medical epidemiologist, said during a news conference.

“Keratitis can be a scary infection, but it is preventable if people follow healthy habits and take care of their eyes and their lenses.”

There are certain habits that we all have done that we shouldn’t. The biggest one? Sleeping with our contacts in. For me, it dries them out, so that bad habit was kicked fast for me. After that, improperly cleaning the lenses, getting the contacts wet either in the shower or swimming.

Just wearing contact lenses at night increases your risk of infection by a factor of 20. Luckily, if caught early, keratitis can be treated with relative ease. The issue is cost. Dr. Cope said the average cost to patients going to an urgent care clinic hits $151, while an ER visit spikes to $587. For something easily prevented.

In total, keratitis adds $175 million annually to the nation’s health bill. For the study, CDC researchers looked at three national databases of urgent care clinics and ERs. Estimates for keratitis infections ranged from 930,000 at urgent cares to 58,000 ER visits.

There was no significant age disparity for the hospital visits, but women were more likely to go to the doctor (63%) or the ER (55%).

The CDC recommends some easy steps to cut your risk of infection. You have heard the tips before, but it never hurts to reinforce.

Washing hands with soap and water before touching contact lenses.

Removing contacts before bed, showering or swimming.

Rubbing and rinsing contacts in disinfecting solution after taking them out.

Rubbing and rinsing the contact lens case with contact lens solution, drying the case and keeping it upside down with the caps off.

Replacing lens cases at least every three months.

If left untreated, the infection can accelerate and lead to scarring. This has the potential to impact vision, and in extreme cases it will perforate the eye, leading to blindness.

The report was published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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