You know how important it is to keep your contact lenses clean and change them as often as your eye doctor recommends. The point of all this is to reduce the chances of getting an eye infection from a contaminated lens or suffering eye damage due to dryness. However, a new study suggests that simply wearing contacts can have an effect on the balance of natural bacteria present on the surface of your eyes.
Findings from the Study
The study, published online in mBio in March of 2016, was performed by a group of researchers at the New York University School of Medicine. Led by Maria Dominguez-Bello, Ph.D., the research team took cultures from 58 adults, collecting a total of 116 swabs from the eye surface, 114 from the skin under the eye and 20 from contact lenses. Samples were taken over a span of six weeks and analyzed to determine their bacterial content.
What the analysis revealed was interesting. The researchers discovered that the eye surface contained a greater concentration of bacteria than the surrounding skin, a characteristic that they weren’t expecting. The eyes of those who wore contacts also contained bacteria similar to that normally found only on the surface of the surrounding skin. People who didn’t wear contacts had a greater difference between the types of bacteria inhabiting their skin and eyes.
Since there hasn’t been a lot of research into the eye microbiome, these results can’t be used to explain the apparent connection between wearing contacts and developing certain eye diseases. However, the study authors expressed concern that the shift in types of bacteria may indicate an increased risk for conditions such as an inflammation of the cornea known as keratitis.
What it Means for People Who Wear Contacts
This study has the potential to impact the 30 million Americans who currently wear contact lenses, although it’s not clear how as of yet. The results of the study can only show that conditions on the surface of the eye differ between people who do and don’t wear contacts. It can’t explain why the change occurs or if it does indeed present a problem. Researchers hypothesize that the shift in types of bacteria may be caused by hand-to-eye contact when inserting lenses or that the lenses themselves somehow influence the types of bacteria that colonize the eye.
Until more research is done on the subject of the eye’s unique microbiome, there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that you have to toss your contacts. However, you should make every effort to keep your contacts as clean as possible. Wash your hands well before putting lenses in, and use the proper type of cleaning solution for storage at night. This helps prevent pathogenic bacteria from entering your eyes and causing discomfort or infections.
If you find it difficult to keep up with a routine cleaning regimen, talk with your eye doctor about alternative options that could minimize your exposure to unhealthy bacteria.
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