One in six US adults wears contact lenses, and virtually all engage in some form of risky behavior concerning lens care. Those are a few highlights of a new report from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on contact lens wearer demographics and behavioral influences on risk of contact lens-related eye infection, part of the organization’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.1 

The population-based study identified 40.9 million contact lens wearers (i.e., one sixth of the adult population) in the country, with 93% wearing soft contact lenses. Of the total respondents, most were white (64.5%) females (60.7%) aged 30-39 (24.8%) from the South (37.1%) with a high school level of education (31.5%) who live in metropolitan areas (87.1%). The study did not consider lens wearers under age 18.

A subset of the contact lens-wearing population (n=1,000) also completed the CDC’s Contact Lens Risk Survey. Roughly 99% of the respondents reported at least one contact lens hygiene risk behavior associated with an increased risk for eye infection or inflammation. These include: 

  • Exposing lenses to potential water-borne contamination, either by swimming (61%), showering (84.9%) or rinsing them in tap water (35.5%).
  • Sleeping (50.2%) or napping (87.1%) in their contact lenses.
  • Topping off disinfecting solution in lens cases rather than using new solution (55.1%).
  • Not complying with lens (49.9%) or lens case (82.3%) replacement schedules. 

“This population-based study admirably highlights the importance of proper lens hygiene,” says Joseph P. Shovlin, OD, a member of the CDC’s advisory panel. “There are many steps to compliance in caring for lenses; unfortunately, risky behavior remains a major risk for potentially sight-threatening experiences.” 

The organization also undertook its second annual Contact Lens Health Week in late August to address these deficits in public knowledge of lens care. “The Contact Lens Health Week will help deliver the much-needed reminder to lens wearers that contact lenses are a medical device,” Dr. Shovlin says. “The message will undoubtedly help promote safe and effective lens wear.”

1. Cope JR, MD, Collier SA, Rao MM, et al. Contact lens wearer demographics and risk behaviors for contact lens-related eye Infections — United States, 2014. MMWR, Vol. 64(32):865-70. Aug. 21, 2015.