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Wearing contacts changes more about your eyes than your sight

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Scientists have known for a long time that probiotic (friendly) bacteria live in your digestive tract where they help the body absorb nutrients and fight off infectious microbes. But only recently have they looked into the bacteria that live in and on the eyes. This new insight may have you rethinking the convenience of wearing contact lenses over glasses, or at the least, prompt you to adopt a safer way to wear them.

Research into the microscopic inhabitants of your eyes indicates that these bacteria are not too thrilled to be forced into any kind of interaction with contact lenses that are unceremoniously forced into their habitat. And that may be a reason that folks who wear contacts get more eye infections.

According to these studies, when you wear contact lenses, the microorganism population of your eyes changes in a way that makes it just about identical to the bacteria that normally live on the skin of your eyelids. The researchers aren’t sure if this bacterial shift is due to your fingers touching your eyes or the pressure from the lens sitting on the eye.

Regardless, the shift in bacteria appears to cause a change in the day-to-day health of your eyes, making you more prone to what are called corneal ulcers (infected sores in the outer layer of the cornea.)

“There has been an increase in the prevalence of corneal ulcers following the introduction of soft contact lenses in the 1970s,” says researcher Jack Dodick. “A common pathogen implicated has been Pseudomonas. This study suggests that because the offending organisms seem to emanate from the skin, greater attention should be directed to eyelid and hand hygiene to decrease the incidence of this serious occurrence.”

If you wear contacts, you can lower your risk of eye infections, say the researchers, by using daily, disposable lenses. That minimizes the chance of transferring pathogenic bacteria to your eyes. It is also definitely a good idea to always wash your hands before inserting contacts.

Corneal ulcers are nothing to ignore. According to geteyesmart.org, you should see a doctor immediately if you suspect you have this type of infection, as it can permanently damage your vision and even lead to blindness. Symptoms of a corneal ulcer include:

  • Redness of the eye
  • Severe pain and soreness of the eye
  • The feeling of having something in your eye
  • Tearing
  • Pus or other discharge
  • Blurred vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Swelling of the eyelids
  • A white spot on your cornea that you may or may not be able to see when looking in the a mirror

My own preference, since I am nearsighted, is simply to wear glasses. I know I’m old-fashioned, but I’ve never been comfortable putting pieces of plastic in my eyes, even if I was sure they had been thoroughly sterilized.

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