While contact lenses have been prescribed and fitted with an excellent safety record since 1948, it is important to realise that, in common with almost all medical treatments, safe use is dependent upon appropriate safeguards.
Public awareness of the potential risks involved when wearing contact lenses appears to have decreased recently. This is possibly due to the promotion of “funky” lenses, such as those with various imprinted images including flags, tigers and cat’s eyes, without any mention of problems which may occur. The casual use of coloured contact lenses by non regular wearers also reinforces this impression.
Supply of contact lenses through the internet has significantly reduced the awareness that a contact lens is a medical device, which has the potential to increase the risk of serious corneal damage and even loss of the eye. Studies have shown that wearers who purchase their supplies through the internet are five times more likely to develop a serious eye infection. Possible reasons for this include a more casual approach to contact lenses which tends to result in non-compliance with the recommended safety procedures. Furthermore, internet customers are less likely to have regular checks of the ocular health. Eyes which become infected with aggressive bacteria such as pseudomonas aeruginosa may develop ulcers which can destroy the cornea within a few days, resulting in permanent blindness.
Successful treatment of corneal ulcers can be greatly enhanced by early detection and management. As not all optometrists are prepared to take on the responsibility for the ocular health of contact lens internet customers, it is important that such wearers ensure they have a practitioner who is willing to undertake the necessary after-care and deal with emergency situations which may arise.
A young lady who had an unfortunate injury from a contact lens which had apparently not been completely sterilised deserves credit for sharing her experience in the interest of public safety.