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Most contact lens wearers put themselves at risk of infection

New research should serve as an eye opener on the importance of safety when it comes to wearing contact lenses.

The report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that the majority of teens and adults who wear contact lenses admit to at least one habit that puts them at risk of infection.

Eye infections can lead to serious problems including blindness, so the CDC is reminding contact lens wearers that correct use and caring for their lenses is paramount for safety.

"Contact lenses are a safe and effective way to correct your vision when they are worn and cared for as recommended," Dr. Jennifer Cope, a CDC medical epidemiologist, said in a statement. "However, adolescents and adults can improve the way they take care of their contact lenses to reduce their risk of serious eye infections."

How your eyes can reveal potential health problems 03:38

At least one in seven adolescents and one in six adults in the U.S. wore contact lenses in 2016. According to the CDC, about 85 percent of them reported at least one behavior that puts them at risk for a serious contact lens–related eye infection.

In teens, the most commonly reported risky behaviors include: not visiting the eye doctor at least once a year, sleeping or napping with contacts in, and swimming while wearing contacts.

Among adult contact lens wearers, unsafe practices included not replacing lenses as often as prescribed, not regularly replacing storage cases, and sleeping or swimming while wearing contact lenses.

Experts say wearing contact lenses increases your risk of getting a severe eye infection caused by germs commonly found in water, but practicing healthy habits can help maintain good eye health.

The CDC and the American Optometric Association (AOA) recommend the following safety tips:

  • Replace your contact lens case regularly. Germs are more likely to get on the case when they are not replaced regularly. This leads to more complications and eye problems.
  • Visit your eye doctor every year.  Annual in-person eye examines determine whether or not your prescription changed and evaluate eye and overall health.
  • Buy your contact lenses from a trusted source. Contact lenses are regulated by the FDA, but some online retailers sell them without prescriptions and sometimes ship contact lenses of the wrong prescription. Poorly fitted contact lenses can cause significant damage to the eye's function, which could lead to irreversible sight loss.
  • Don't sleep or nap while wearing contact lenses. Sleeping in contact lenses increases the chance of an eye infection by six to eight times.
  • Don't swim or shower while wearing contact lenses. Contact lenses can carry germs from the water into the eye, which can lead to infection.
  • Don't ever share contacts. Sharing contacts means sharing germs and bacteria, which increases the risk of infection and complications. 
  • Never use tap water to clean and rinse lenses. Contact solutions remove mucus, secretions, films or deposits that can build up during use and lead to bacterial growth if not removed properly. Never rely on tap water to store your lenses as it contains bacteria and other microorganisms that have been proven to cause serious eye infections.
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