Woman inserting contact lensContact lens wearers are engaging in risky behavior. Fully 99 percent of them, in response to a survey, admitted at least one risky behavior that increases their risk of eye infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

More than 41 million adult Americans (17% of U.S. adults) wear contact lens. Annually, at least a third of them go to the doctor for red or painful eyes related to wearing their contact lenses.

The risky behaviors that wearers reported on the CDC survey include:

  • Keeping their contact lens cases for longer than recommended (82%)
  • “Topping off” the soaking solution in the case instead of fully emptying out the case before adding fresh solution (55%)
  • Wearing lens while sleeping (50%)

Each of these behaviors raises the risk of serious eye infections by five times or more. Some respondents reported multiple risky behaviors.

A 2014 news release from the CDC reported nearly a million doctor visits annually for eye infections. Another 60,000 people visit emergency departments annually with eye infections. CDC estimates these visits cost more than $175 million in direct health care costs.

9 tips to prevent eye infections:

  • Wash hands with soap and water, dry hands well before touching contact lenses.
  • Remove lenses before sleeping, napping, showering, swimming or entering a hot tub.
  • Rub and rinse lenses in disinfecting solution every time you remove them – never use water.
  • After inserting lenses, rub and rinse the case with solution, dry with a clean tissue and store upside down with the caps off.
  • Replace lens cases at least every three months.
  • Replace lenses as often as recommended by your eye doctor.
  • Never “top off” the lens solution in the case.
  • Carry a backup pair of glasses in case your contacts have to be removed.
  • Visit your eye doctor annually or as he or she recommends.
  • Remove lenses immediately and call your eye doctor if you have eye pain, discomfort, redness or blurred vision.

These tips apply to both soft lenses and hard or rigid gas permeable lenses.

Keep contact lenses away from all water. Water can cause soft lenses to swell, change shape and even stick to your eye. This can scratch the cornea, making it easier for germs to enter the eye and cause infection. Water is not germ-free and can cause eye infections. To be safe, remove a contact lens that has touched water. It’s best to throw them away or disinfect lenses that touch water.

Keratitis is an infection of the cornea that causes inflammation and pain. It can lead to blindness in severe cases. Wearing contact lens for too long or not caring for them with upmost cleanliness is the greatest single risk factor in developing keratitis, especially among young people. About 20 percent of patients requiring hospitalization for keratitis require a cornea transplant. The CDC said behaviors that are most likely to cause keratitis include exposing the lenses to water or saliva, wearing them overnight, and not keeping the storage case clean and filled with fresh solution.

Eye infections occur in all ages but are more common in women than men. Women accounted for 63 percent of office visits for eye infections and about 55 percent of emergency department visits.

Symptoms of eye infection include:

  • Red, irritated eyes
  • Worsening pain in or around the eyes even after contact lens removal
  • Light sensitivity
  • Sudden blurry vision
  • Unusually watery eyes or any discharge
  • Milder symptoms or no symptoms at all

If you have any of these symptoms, remove your lenses. If symptoms continue after a couple of hours or if they get worse, contact your eye doctor immediately.