I have no qualms about touching my eyeballs. I particularly like doing it in front of people who can’t and get all squeamish and grossed out. It’s really a good party trick, particularly around a pack of young boys. However, our eyes are more than the window to our souls. As a mucous membrane they are one of the areas of our body that can be incredibly susceptible to infections. Pink eye is a great example, that nasty infection that results in itchy oozing eyes.
As a former contact wearer, the importance of infection control was not lost on me. Simple things like washing your hands before putting your “eyes” in or taking them out and keeping the contact lens container clean were incredibly important. Even though I knew this, and thought I practiced good hygiene I ended up with an ulcer in my eye. My eye doctor suspected my lens solution as the cause and whether it was an allergic reaction or an infection. I was lucky, had the ulcer been in a different location it could have impaired by vision.
Why would you care about my eyes? Well, I hope you care about yours especially if you happen to live in the UK where Acanthamoeba keratitis infections have been spiking among contact lens users. The recent outbreak has UK Health experts urging contact lens users to be more careful. According to the study that was published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, the rate of Acanthamoeba keratitis infection has gone up by 3 times since 2011. This type of infection is usually considered rare with only 2.5 people / 100,000 every year. The study found that reusable contact lens users who had eye infections were more likely to have ineffective contact lens solution, contaminated lenses and overall poor contact lens hygiene. Aside from poor hygiene, wearing contact lenses while swimming, using hot tubs or showering can also increase the risk as the amoeba can be found in bodies of water, soil and even air.
Moving to disposable lenses eliminates the need for contact lens cases or contact lens solutions. However, while they reduce some risk factors the use of disposable lenses does not remove the need for proper hand hygiene. The long and the short is if you use contacts or if like me you frequently touch your eyes make sure your hands are clean before handing the contact lenses or touching your eyeball!