Contact lenses have recently been making headlines, but unfortunately, not for the right reasons. A new study conducted in the US has revealed that 18 popular types of contact lenses contain alarmingly high levels of organic fluorine, which is a marker for perfluoroalkoxy alkanes (PFAS) or ‘forever chemicals’.

PFAS are a group of approximately 14,000 chemicals that are used in the production of various consumer products to make them resistant to water, stains, and heat. These chemicals are known as ‘forever chemicals’ because they do not naturally break down and have been linked to serious health issues such as cancer, liver disease, kidney disease, autoimmune disorders, and more, as reported by The Guardian.

In the midst of this news, a TikToker named Doug gained widespread attention on social media after revealing that he had worn the same pair of contact lenses continuously for three years. Unfortunately, Doug experienced permanent astigmatism and developed ‘build up’ behind his eyelids as a result, according to reports.

Although Doug eventually recovered after a year of exclusively wearing glasses, this incident has once again drawn attention to the potential risks associated with contact lenses.

Keeping Your Eyes Safe

Contact lenses have been a game-changer for those who prefer not to wear glasses. Since their introduction in the early 1970s, they have been widely adopted for their cosmetic benefits, wider field of vision (especially peripheral), reduced glare, and prevention of fogging or clouding that can occur with glasses. Daily disposable contact lenses, introduced in the 1980s, have revolutionized the lives of many people. However, contact lenses are not without their problems,” says Dr. Deepali Garg Mathur, principal consultant in ophthalmology at Max Multi Speciality Centre in New Delhi.

One common issue associated with contact lens use is red eyes due to irritation or dryness. Contact lenses are hygroscopic, meaning they tend to absorb your own tears, which can create a dry environment and increase the risk of infection, explains Dr. Mathur. Prolonged use of contact lenses, which act as foreign bodies, can lead to the development of papules in the upper lid or giant papillary conjunctivitis (GPC). Long-term users and those who exceed the recommended duration of contact lens use may also experience eye ulcers and corneal vascularization.

Recent reports have highlighted the potential harm of sleeping while wearing contact lenses. It has been found that this behavior increases the likelihood of eye infections, which can result in permanent corneal damage and vision loss. “Corneal infections, specifically microbial keratitis, become over five times more likely when contact lenses are worn overnight, regardless of the lens type (soft, hard, decorative, or prescription). Even occasional or accidental sleeping with lenses increases the risk of infection,” says Dr. Saurabh Varshney, senior consultant in ophthalmology at Primus Super Speciality Hospital in New Delhi.

Normally, tears help protect the eyes against infection by introducing fresh fluid and oxygen as you blink, thus maintaining the health of the cornea. However, when contact lenses cover the cornea during sleep, the natural defense mechanisms are hindered. The corneas receive less tear fluid without blinking, limiting the opportunity for tears to mix with the fluid beneath the lenses and flush out microbes, explains Dr. Varshney.

In addition, sleeping with contacts or wearing them for extended periods reduces corneal oxygenation, potentially damaging the cornea’s surface and hindering cell regeneration. This decreased oxygen supply creates an environment where bacteria can thrive and lead to infections over time, adds Dr. Varshney.

Exploring Alternatives

If contact lenses are not a suitable option, LASIK (laser eye surgery or laser vision correction) may be considered as an alternative solution. Dr. Priyanka Singh, consultant and eye surgeon at Neytra Eye Centre in New Delhi, explains that LASIK is an effective solution for those who wish to eliminate the need for glasses or contact lenses. However, thorough pre-LASIK evaluations are recommended to rule out any conditions that may complicate the surgery. Once a patient is deemed fit for LASIK, the chances of complications are minimal, she says.

Some patients may experience dry eyes after LASIK surgery, but this typically improves within one to two months.

The cost of LASIK surgery can range from ₹30,000 to ₹40,000 for both eyes, depending on the advancements in LASIK machines, and may increase up to ₹90,000, according to Dr. Singh.

However, are there any risks associated with LASIK surgery? Dr. Rinky Anand Gupta, senior consultant in eye care/ophthalmology at Max Hospital in Vaishali, Ghaziabad, UP, explains that loss of eyesight as a result of complications is rare. “However, there may be some LASIK side effects, including dry eyes and transient vision issues like glare. Some individuals may consider these to be persistent issues, but they often resolve within a few weeks or months,” she adds.

Dr. Mathur from Max Multi Speciality Centre emphasizes that most contact lens users tend to misuse their lenses by exceeding the recommended duration of use, using expired lenses, and neglecting the use of lubricants. “For those who are not careful with their contact lenses, LASIK surgery may be a viable option. However, for those who can adhere to the recommended regimen, contact lenses are equally suitable,” she advises.

Protecting Your Vision

Experts recommend maintaining good eye health by eating a healthy diet. “Starting with the food you eat will promote good eye health. Consuming nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, zinc, and vitamins C and E can help prevent age-related vision issues such as cataracts, macular degeneration, and night blindness,” says Dr. Gupta from Max Hospital in Vaishali.

Quitting smoking is another important step. “Smoking increases the risk of developing macular degeneration, cataracts, and damage to your optic nerve, among many other medical conditions,” she adds.

Here are some other tips from Dr. Gupta for maintaining good eye health and preserving good eyesight:

* Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from excessive UV exposure, which increases the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.

* Use safety eyewear when working with dangerous or airborne chemicals.

* Follow the 20:20:20 rule when using a computer screen – look away every 20 minutes at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

* Regularly visit your eye doctor for check-ups.

Checklist for Contact Lens Users

* Always wash and rinse your hands thoroughly before handling your lenses.

* Clean your lenses after removal.

* Use only recommended solutions for cleaning, rinsing, and soaking your lenses.

* Clean your lens storage case in warm soapy water at least once a week.

* If you drop a lens, clean and rinse it before reapplying – it’s best to avoid dropping the lens in the first place.

* Regular and complete blinking will keep the lens moist and clean.

* Consult your eyecare practitioner immediately if you experience any unexplained redness, persistent pain, discomfort, change in vision, light sensitivity, or unusual eye secretions.

* Discard all solutions one month after opening, even if there is some remaining.

* Use swimming goggles when swimming with contact lenses.

* Avoid wearing lenses when you are unwell or have red eyes.

* Apply cosmetics and eye makeup after inserting lenses. Apply eye makeup only on the outer lid margin, not inside.

(Courtesy: Dr. Santosh Bhide, ophthalmologist and eye surgeon, Ruby Hall Clinic, Pune)

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