A prominent and well-regarded Rancho Mirage optometrist is calling a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about eye infections associated with contact lenses “sensationalism to the ultimate.”
Dr. Burton “Doc” Blaurock, a graduate of University of California School of Optometry at Berkeley, said the report has chosen to highlight and blow out of proportion a “rare occurrence.” He has been fitting contact lenses since 1972.
More than six in seven adolescents (85 percent) who wear contact lenses report at least one habit that increases the chance of an eye infection, according to a recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). Eye infections can lead to serious problems, including blindness, according to the report.
“This is not Ebola we’re talking about,” he said, emphasizing his disgust. “Because Ebola, if you mess around with it, you know, you either die or you’re gonna be very, very sick. People do not go blind from wearing contacts. Yes, there are, let’s say 10 one year, two another year. We’re talking about millions of people wearing contacts. They’re extraordinarily safe. You can get away with not following instructions and do very well for many years.”
Contact lenses, Blaurock, said, are an “extraordinarily safe modality.”
The CDC’s report marks the nation’s public health agency’s first data on the wear and care habits of the estimated 3 million U.S. adolescents ages 12 to 17 years who use contact lenses.
“Contact lenses are a safe and effective way to correct your vision when they are worn and cared for as recommended,” Dr. Jennifer Cope, medical epidemiologist in CDC’s Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch, said in a news release. “However, adolescents and adults can improve the way they take care of their contact lenses to reduce their risk of serious eye infections.”
Some of the risks the CDC found contact lens wearers taking included:
Eighty-five percent of adolescents (ages 12-17), 81 percent of young adults (ages 18-24), and 87 percent of adults (ages 25 and older) reported a habit that increases their chance of an eye infection and could threaten their vision.
Adolescents most frequently reported these risky habits:
- Not visiting an eye doctor at least once a year (44 percent)
- Sleeping or napping while wearing lenses (30 percent)
- Swimming while wearing lenses (27 percent)
The most frequently reported risky habits among young adults and adults were:
- Not replacing lenses as often as prescribed (52 and 45 percent, respectively)
- Not regularly replacing storage cases (41 and 42 percent)
- Sleeping while wearing lenses (33 and 33 percent)
- Swimming while wearing lenses (28 and 33 percent)
Blaurock acknowledges that without proper care, some contact lens wearers might be at risk of infection.
“It’s a this rare occurrence that occurs mostly with people who are not compliant with their schedule, the amount of times that they’re changing the lenses, or they just keep them in until they start to feel discomfort instead of taking them out on a routine basis,” Blaurock said. “It’s kind of like giving somebody a fast sports car instead of a Volkswagen, you know. You can get into more trouble, and you need people who are responsible. So, I would never fit a child with extended wear contacts.”