According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 30 million people across American wear contact lenses, and two-thirds of wearers are women. Many users choose contacts over glasses as they feel it improves their appearance. Contact lenses also make it easier for wearers to see yet maintain an active life and participate in sports. While contacts are relatively safe, unfortunately the most common complication is also the most serious. Every year, thousands of contract wearers a serious infection known as microbial keratitis that could potentially lead to blindness. Here is what you need to know.
What Is Bacterial Keratitis?
This sight-threatening condition comes on extremely quickly. It is caused by a lethal bacterium that can destroy the cornea, the clear, dome-shaped lens that covers the pupil, in as little as 24 hours. Streptococcus and staphylococcus are the most common bacteria groups present in bacterial keratitis.
What Are The Symptoms Of Bacterial Keratitis?
The following symptoms usually come on very quickly:
- Sudden eye pain
- Excessive tearing
- Discharge from the eye
- Vision impairment
- Light sensitivity
It is imperative that if you suddenly have any of these symptoms you seek immediate emergency care from an ophthalmologist or another doctor. Do not wait until they have an appointment opening or hope it will just clear up with the use of eye drops. Corneal abrasion and ulceration can quickly occur as the bacteria destroys the lens. Complete or partial blindness is a very real threat.
Who Is Susceptible To Bacterial Keratitis?
Contact lens wearers, especially those who use the extended wear lens, are vulnerable, but others are as well. A recent injury or corneal surgery can allow bacteria to enter through a microscopic perforation in the eye. Contaminated eye washes, drops, and medications can be a bacteria source. Impaired immunity from alcoholism, diabetes, or immune deficiency diseases such as HIV can also put one at a higher risk of bacterial keratitis. The use of steroids can also be a contributing factor.
What Is The Treatment For Bacterial Keratitis?
Your eye doctor will need to take a quick scraping from the cornea to get a lab sample. This is to make sure the keratitis is bacterial rather than fungal in nature. Fungal keratitis requires a different treatment. If the laboratory results confirm it is bacterial keratitis, you will be prescribed powerful antibiotic eye drops which must be used frequently and consistently. A topical steroid may also be prescribed. You will also need to see your ophthalmologist several times throughout treatment to ensure the prescribed medication(s) is working. If you are a contact wearer, it is very important to practice good hygiene and contact care procedures to prevent bacterial keratitis or other eye infections. Children who wear contact lenses must be supervised to ensure they follow the proper protocol.
For more information, talk to a professional like The Eye Center.