If you wear contact lenses, you’re at elevated risk for contracting painful infections that could have long term effects on the health of your eyes.

The sad fact is that most people who wear contacts aren’t taking proper care of their lenses, and as a result, putting the health of their eyes at risk. Contact lens wearers may be lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that because nothing has happened to their eyes as a result of wearing contact lenses, that nothing ever will. But in reality, the chances of contracting an infection as a result of improper contact lens care are higher than we’d like to think. A lax attitude towards lens care – wearing them for too long or overnight, using water instead of solution in a pinch, not replacing the case, and so on – is the cause of over 1 million cases of eye infections per year in Americans alone, according to an article published by The Washington Post.

Contact lens wearers are at a much higher risk of keratitis, the inflammation of the cornea. Microbial keratisis is when germs (viruses, bacteria, fungi, or parasites) invade the cornea. The risk of this painful and potentially blinding condition is far greater for those who wear their contact lenses for too long or don’t care for them properly. The costs of keratitis are serious, both for a patient’s health and their bank account. In extreme cases, microbial keratitis can lead to loss of sight or a need for a corneal transplant. While these effects only come up in extreme cases, even a mild case can run a patient nearly $600 for an emergency room visit.

The CDC Estimates that the cost of a doctor’s visit for Keratitis is about $151 on average; each emergency room visit costs an average of $587. Overall in the United States, Keratitis is responsible for $175 million in direct costs.– Abby Phillip, The Washington Post

Is the risk of keratitis or another infection worth it?

If you have worn contact lenses in your life, you have accepted a greater level of risk of serious eye complications than you would if you had LASIK.– Dr. Anthony J. Kameen

For those looking for an alternative to the risk and the involved upkeep that goes along with contact lens care, laser vision correction (LASIK) is a viable alternative. Laser vision correction eliminates the risk of improper contact lens wear leading to infection. For many patients, corrective surgery actually costs less than a lifetime of lenses and solution. This is especially true when one factors in the cost of doctors’ visits and treatments for complications of contact lens wear.

For more information about how to properly care for your contact lenses, visit the CDC’s website here.