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Eye-Popping: The Unclean Things We Do To Contact Lenses


Need more proof that people do bizarre and risky things? How about using beer, lemonade or baby oil as contact lens solution?

A   survey last month by Bausch + Lomb, a lens solution manufacturer, found that 20 percent of people admitted that they have sometimes resorted to, shall we say, unconventional fluids for contact lens solution, despite the fact that none  of them are even remotely safe to be used in the eye.

An "overwhelming" proportion also reported using saliva or tap water as a solution when putting lenses in their eyes, the company reported, both of which can expose the eyes to bacteria that can cause serious infections.

And now this month comes new research by eye doctors with the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center  that finds -- big surprise -- people tell their eye doctor they clean their lenses properly, but barely anyone really does.

The survey of more than 400 contact lens wearers, ages 18 to 75, found that just 2 percent of them followed safe, hygenic practices when handling, wearing and cleaning their lenses.

"It's horrible," Dwight Cavanagh, a professor of ophthalmology at Southwestern Medical Center, told National Public Radio. "Once you've got a serious eye infection going in your cornea, you're in trouble."

Among the most common mistakes lens wearers made, according to the study:

*Not using fresh solution on a daily basis or "topping off" old solution with new solution. 

*Failing to replace lens case regularly with a new case. Previous studies have shown that up to 81 percent of lens storage cases are contaminated; cases nine months old or more have the highest rate of contamination.

*Exposing lenses to bacteria in water, either by using tap water for lens cleaning or wearing lenses while showering or swimming. The parasite Acanthamoeba in tap water can cause a rare but serious corneal infection in contact lens wearers (including a 2006 outbreak in Chicago).

*Not washing hands before handling lenses.

*Sleeping in lenses or using them longer than recommended, which can damage the lens, causing serious irritation or injury to the cornea.

For tips on the right way to take care of your lenses and keep your eyes healthy, see the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

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