In October, the dangers of nonprescribed decorative contact lenses get considerable attention, but year-round, most contact lens wearers engage in at least one frightening practice. According to a CDC survey, more than 99 percent of contact lens wearers reported at least one behavior that put them at risk of eye infection or injury. More than 82 percent of survey respondents reported keeping their contact lens cases longer than the recommended three months. More than 55 percent reported topping off the existing solution instead of emptying the case fully before adding the new solution, and more than 50 percent reported wearing their lenses while sleeping. Previous studies have found that each of these behaviors raises the risk of eye infections by five times or more.
Two subsequent studies had similarly chilling results. The first assessed contact lens wearer experiences regarding recommendations received from eyecare providers during their most recent appointment; the second evaluated provider-reported practices for communicating contact lens wear and care recommendations to their patients. In the first study, nearly one third of contact lens wearers did not recall hearing any lens wear and care recommendations. Fewer than half recalled hearing their provider recommend not sleeping in lenses at their last visit, and fewer than 20 percent recalled being told to avoid topping off their contact lens solution. In sharp contrast, the second study of eyecare providers reported that a majority of providers shared recommendations always or most of the time at initial visits, regular checkups and complication-related visits. Most advocate complying with recommended lens replacement schedules at 85 percent of regular visits, not sleeping in lenses at 79 percent of regular visits and not topping off solutions at 64 percent of regular visits.
Why the disconnect? According to the CDC, only 12 percent of adults in the U.S. have proficient health literacy, which suggests that nearly 90 percent might find it challenging to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make decisions about their health. Although eyecare providers report mentioning these behaviors to their patients frequently, patients report hearing the messages less frequently, suggesting that new communication strategies are needed. Eyecare provider communication techniques to inform patients of health risks that are easy to understand, specific, use repetition, minimize jargon and check for patients’ understanding of the information presented are most likely to be effective. CDC has developed health communication materials that target contact lens wearers, and eyecare providers can obtain these materials to share with patients.
• Linda Conlin
Pro to Pro Managing Editor