Most Americans Disregard Contact Lens Hygiene

Preventable eye infections caused by improper use of contact lenses costs the health care system approximately $175 million each year. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Contact lenses are a life-saver for people who don't see 20/20, hate to wear glasses and either can't afford or don't want to have laser surgery to correct their vision. Most contacts on the market today are relatively affordable and, of course, perfectly safe to use. That is, as long as a wearer takes care of them properly.

An estimated 41 million Americans (17 percent of the population) use contact lenses, and a new report released on Thursday by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention suggests virtually all Americans who wear contacts (99 percent) have bad habits that significantly raise their risk for eye infection. These preventable infections cost the health care system approximately $175 million each year.

The report, based on surveys of 1,000 contact lens wearers, finds 55 percent admitted to adding more solution to a case rather than emptying it out before storing the lenses. Half of all wearers who participated in the survey said they wear their lenses to bed at least some of the time. And nearly all said they kept using their case much longer than three months.

While contact lens care isn't rocket science, too many people lapse into unhealthy habits either out of laziness or to save money and time. Additionally, some eye doctors fail to educate their patients on exactly how to use and take care of lenses.

Bad contact lens behavior puts one at risk for a variety of infections, such as Acanthamoeba, a type of parasitic amoeba that has the potential to cause blindness. There are nearly 1 million U.S. health care visits each year for keratitis (inflammation of the cornea) or contact lens complications.

Though parasitic infections do happen, unhygienic practices are most likely to lead to eye discomfort throughout the day. If you have a lousy eye doctor who forgot to tell you how to use lenses, then take a look at the CDC's handy tip sheet, which outlines recommended OCD behaviors.