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Rare Cases of Eye Fungus With Contacts

'Extremely Small' Risk for Most Wearers of Contact Lenses, Experts Say
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 7, 2006 -- A rare infection from a fungus that can threaten eyesight has been reported in several U.S. wearers of soft contact lenses.

The fungus causes a fungal keratitis, an infection of the cornea. The fungus, fusarium, is commonly present in the environment in plant matter. The CDC has reports of about 50 possible cases in 12 states so far this year, but it's not clear if that's more than usual, according to the Associated Press. Cases have also been reported in Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong, the Associated Press notes.

The risk of an eye infection from the fungus is "extremely small," states the web site of the American Optometric Association (AOA). The main cause of keratitis infections in contact lens wearers is bacteria.

The AOA lists these symptoms for keratitis:

  • Red and irritated eyes lasting for an unusually long period of time after lens removal.
  • Pain in and around the eyes, especially if that pain progressively worsens.
  • Increased sensitivity to light.
  • Rapid onset of blurred or fuzzy vision.
  • Excessive tearing or discharge.

People with those symptoms should remove their lenses immediately and seek care as soon as possible, the AOA advises.

Eye-Care Tips for Wearers of Contact Lenses

Though most people probably won't come down with the condition, it's always a good idea to take good care of your eyes and contact lenses to avoid problems such as bacterial infections, which are much more common than fungal infections. Here are some guidelines:

Advice on wearing contact lenses:

  • Wear your contact lenses as prescribed. Don't wear them longer than recommended.
  • Never wear anyone else's contact lenses.
  • Contact lenses may make your eyes more sensitive to sunlight, so wear sunglasses with total UV protection and/or a wide-brimmed hat while in the sun.
  • Insert your contact lenses before applying makeup to avoid contaminating your lenses.
  • Use a rewetting solution or plain saline solution to keep your eyes lubricated.
  • Don't sleep with your lenses in, unless you have "extended wear" contacts.

Advice on cleaning and storing contact lenses:

  • Always wash your hands with warm water and soap before handling your contact lenses or touching your eyes.
  • Clean and store your contact lenses as prescribed (in a clean case in fresh solution).
  • Clean your contact lens case after each use with either sterile solution or hot tap water; let it air dry.
  • Never use plain water directly on your contact lenses and never put your contact lenses in your mouth to "rinse" them. Microorganisms can live even in distilled water, causing infection that can threaten vision.
  • Clean your contact lens by rubbing it gently with your index finger in the palm of your hand. "No rub" solutions allow cleaning without rubbing.
  • Don't let the tip of solution bottles touch other surfaces, including your fingers, eyes, or contact lenses. The solution can become contaminated.

Advice on eye care:

  • Look for signs of eye infection, such as redness, burning, or excessive tearing.
  • If you develop an eye infection, take your lenses out and don't use them until you talk to your eye doctor.
  • See your doctor annually to check your contact lens fit and prescription.
  • Visit a doctor immediately if you have any degree of sudden vision loss, blurred vision, light flashes, eye pain, infection, swelling, unusual redness, or irritation.

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