Contact lenses have recently made headlines, but not for the right reasons. A new study conducted in the US has revealed that 18 popular brands 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 have earned the nickname ‘forever chemicals’ because they do not naturally break down and have been linked to serious health issues such as cancer, fetal complications, liver disease, kidney disease, autoimmune disorders, and more, as reported by The Guardian.

In other news, a TikToker named Doug recently gained widespread attention on social media when he revealed that he had been wearing the same pair of contact lenses continuously for three years. Unfortunately, this led to permanent astigmatism and a buildup behind his eyelids, according to reports.

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

Protecting Your Eyes

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 embraced 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, which were introduced in the 1980s, have revolutionized the lives of many people. However, contact lenses are not without their problems, warns Dr. Deepali Garg Mathur, Principal Consultant in Ophthalmology at Max Multi Speciality Centre in New Delhi.

One common issue is red eyes caused by lens irritation or dryness. Contact lenses are hygroscopic, meaning they tend to absorb the natural tears in your eyes, leading to a dry environment and an increased risk of infection. Prolonged use of contact lenses, which act as foreign bodies, can result in the development of papules in the upper lid or giant papillary conjunctivitis (GPC). Long-term users and those who exceed the recommended duration of lens wear may also experience eye ulcers and corneal vascularization.

Recent reports have highlighted the potential harm of sleeping with contact lenses. Studies suggest that this behavior increases the risk of eye infections, which can potentially cause permanent damage to the cornea and vision loss. Dr. Saurabh Varshney, Senior Consultant in Ophthalmology at Primus Super Speciality Hospital in New Delhi, explains that corneal infections, particularly microbial keratitis, become over five times more likely when contact lenses are worn overnight, regardless of the lens type. Even occasional or accidental sleeping with lenses significantly heightens the risk of infection.

Normally, your eyes are protected against infection by tears, which introduce fresh fluid and oxygen as you blink, maintaining the health of the cornea. However, contact lenses covering the cornea hinder these natural defense mechanisms. When lenses are worn during sleep, the corneas receive even less tear fluid due to the absence of blinking, limiting the opportunity for tears to mix with the fluid beneath the lenses and flush out microbes. Additionally, sleeping with contacts or wearing them for extended periods reduces corneal oxygenation, potentially damaging the cornea’s surface and hindering cell regeneration. This creates an environment where bacteria can thrive and lead to infections over time.

Exploring Alternatives

If contact lenses are not an ideal option, LASIK surgery, also known as laser eye surgery or laser vision correction, can be considered as an alternative solution. Dr. Priyanka Singh, Consultant and Eye Surgeon at Neytra Eye Centre in New Delhi, explains that LASIK surgery is an effective method for replacing glasses or contact lenses. While there may be some complications associated with LASIK, a thorough pre-surgery evaluation can help identify any conditions that may complicate the procedure. Once a patient is deemed suitable for LASIK surgery, the chances of experiencing complications are minimal.

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 INR 30,000 to INR 40,000 for both eyes, with potential increases depending on advancements in LASIK technology.

Dr. Rinky Anand Gupta, Senior Consultant in Eye Care/Ophthalmology at Max Hospital in Vaishali, Ghaziabad, UP, reassures that loss of eyesight as a result of complications from LASIK surgery is rare. However, some side effects such as dry eyes and transient vision issues like glare may occur. These effects are usually temporary and tend to resolve within a few weeks or months.

Dr. Mathur 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 diligent in caring for their contact lenses, LASIK surgery may be a viable alternative. However, for individuals who can adhere to the recommended regimen, contact lenses remain a suitable option.

Maintaining Clear Vision

Experts suggest that maintaining good eye health starts with a healthy diet. Consuming nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, zinc, and vitamins C and E can help prevent age-related vision issues like cataracts, macular degeneration, and night blindness. Quitting smoking is also crucial, as it increases the risk of developing macular degeneration, cataracts, and optic nerve damage, among other medical conditions.

Here are some additional tips from Dr. Gupta of Max Hospital in Vaishali for maintaining good eye health and preserving eyesight:

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

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

– Follow the 20:20:20 rule to give your eyes a break from staring at computer screens for extended periods. Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

– Regularly visit your eye doctor for check-ups.

Checklist for Contact Lens Wearers

– 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 altogether.

– Regular and complete blinking helps 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 if your eyes are red.

– Apply cosmetics and eye makeup after inserting your lenses. Only apply eye makeup on the outer lid margin, avoiding the inner part.

(Courtesy: Dr. Santosh Bhide, Ophthalmologist and Eye Surgeon, Ruby Hall Clinic, Pune)

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