As bottles of soap are flying off the shelves and hand sanitizer is in short supply since the global spread of Novel Coronavirus COVID-19, people are paying more attention to hand washing practices. While there is no suggestion of an association between COVID-19 and safe contact lens wear, for the millions of lens wearers worldwide, the increased focus on hand washing is a welcome message.
A recent literature review from Professor Emeritus Desmond Fonn and the Centre for Ocular Research & Education (CORE) reports that proper hand hygiene is especially important for people who use contact lenses. The peer-reviewed study, published in Contact Lens and Anterior Eye, draws attention to how hand washing habits could affect the development of contact lens related microbial keratitis, which can be severe and sight-threatening, and corneal inflammatory events.
“Everyone is suddenly Googling handwashing techniques with the spread of COVID-19,” said Lyndon Jones, PhD, DSc, FCOptom, FAAO, FBCLA, the paper’s co-author and director of CORE. “Clearly this is sensible advice to help reduce the risk of transferring the virus, however, outside of the current crisis, focus on good hand washing techniques should be mandatory for contact lens wearers too. With the amount of information available on this topic right now, it is timely to remind lens wearers of just how much the simple act of thorough hand washing can reduce their risk of lens-related complications occurring.”
The paper notes that in line with its ability to reduce the spread of disease, careful and thorough hand washing with soap and water followed by hand drying with unused paper towels should greatly reduce the transfer of microbial contamination from hands to the contact lens or eye. Clean hands plus use of daily disposables results in the lowest risk of contact lens-related complications. For wearers of reusable lenses there are additional guidelines on lens and case cleaning which can be downloaded for patient use from CORE’s Contact Lens Update educational resource.
Seeing is Believing
In 2018, CORE published a series of eye-popping photos that demonstrate the rapid growth of bacteria associated with mishandling contact lenses. CORE researchers exposed new, clean contact lenses to both clean and unwashed hands. Unwashed hands were pressed into agar (Figure 2a), and also used to handle a new contact lens (Figure 2b). Scientists then repeated the procedure after following recommended handwashing practices, touching both the agar directly, along with applying and removing a contact lens (Figures 2c and 2d). The results clearly demonstrate the impact handling has on contact lenses. Samples that had been touched with unwashed hands showed significantly higher numbers of visible bacteria. By comparison, the contact lens touched with clean hands had only a minimal bacterial load.
“Contact lenses are a safe, highly effective form of vision correction used by millions of people worldwide, but ignoring good contact lens care can have a devastating effect on eye health and vision,” says CORE senior research associate Miriam Heynen, MSc, who conducted the experiment with laboratory research assistant Vivian Chan, BSc. “Taking care of your contact lenses with clean, dry hands is essential, a point that is clearly illustrated in the images shared here.”
Photos from the handling study are available for use by eye care professionals and contact lens wearers alike at https://core.uwaterloo.ca/news/seeing-is-believing-eye-popping-photos-show-why-good-contact-lens-hygiene-is-essential/
Dr. Jones concluded by saying “We understand the relevance of good hand washing practices for everyone in the current climate of COVID-19. Beyond the current heightened focus, it is also prudent to remind contact lens wearers of their ongoing need to conduct good hand hygiene prior to touching their lenses and eyes.”
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About the Centre for Ocular Research & Education (CORE)
The Centre for Ocular Research & Education (CORE) was established in 1988 at the University of Waterloo’s School of Optometry & Vision Science. Over the next three decades, the organization evolved from a three-person operation into a thriving hub of basic and applied research, collaborating with sponsors, agencies and academia on advanced biosciences, clinical research and education. Its uncompromising independence and results of the highest quality have been at the heart of many of the most prominent advances in eye health. Today, its approximately 50-person team serves a range of ophthalmic sectors, including medical devices, ocular pharmaceuticals, digital technology and others, with a focus on the anterior segment. For more information, please visit core.uwaterloo.ca.
Aimee J. Lewis
McDougall Communications for CORE
email@example.com or +1.585.414.9838