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Sometimes seeing is believing

Date Posted: 2004-06-17

CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan — After completing a six-week close-combat training course on Okinawa, two Marines with 1st Marine Division en route to Iraq made an emergency visit to the eye clinic at U.S. Naval Hospital, Okinawa.

One was wearing an eye patch; the other unable to open one of his eyes. Both problems developed from overwearing their contact lenses and as a result, their vision was permanently damaged.

According to Lt. Cmdr. Cyrus Rad, division officer, USNH Branch Eye Clinic, approximately 60 patients are seen monthly due to complications with contact lenses.

He also said overwearing of contact lenses is the leading cause of high-risk complications like vision reduction or loss. The majority of the cases are from Marines who sleep while wearing their contacts.

Sleeping with contact lenses inserted increases the chances of infection 10 times more than that of normal wear. Infections can also form by improperly cleaning or changing the lenses.

According to Rad, by the time a person feels pain or redness, an infection has already started, and it’s already too late. It requires two to five visits, over the course of one to two weeks, to get a patient’s eyes to see well enough to perform regular duties again. This is time lost from work for those Marines.

“It is a huge loss of personnel over a simple matter of overwearing contacts,” Rad said.

Lt. Cmdr. Ken Uyesugi, head of USNH Eye Clinics, said one to two dozen Marines on Okinawa suffer monthly from temporary reduction of vision and are put on limited duty status as a result of contact lens overwear. Two to three patients per month suffer permanent vision reduction.

According to Uyesugi, the way to prevent these cases is educating patients on proper use and wear. However, most of the Marines who come in with these problems are those who have already been overwearing contacts.

“Ninety-nine percent are Marines who we did not initially fit for contacts,” Uyesugi said.

Although the Food and Drug Administration considers contact lenses medical devices, they are commercially marketed as cosmetics. This makes contact lenses readily available for purchase by individuals without having to go through an optometrist.

According to Uyesugi, contacts are made of different materials with different properties and durability. Contacts are manufactured and labeled for specific types of wear such as day, night or seasonal.

The FDA tests and approves the contact lenses’ rates of durability. Different lenses are designed to be disposed of in accordance with their intended usage. Some are designed to last a year, while others may only hold up for a few weeks.

As a general rule, the sooner contacts are replaced according to the manufacturer’s instructions, the less likely problems will occur with the eye.

“Contacts are like a sponges, they absorb materials such as bacteria and need to be properly cleaned, replaced and worn,” Rad said.

One Marine learned the hard way about the seriousness of wearing contact lenses properly. Supply warehouse worker Pfc. Dustin Snyder, 12th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, almost went blind in his right eye due to overwearing his contact lenses.

He said he started out wearing his lenses properly but later became lazy and kept them in for months at a time. Snyder later developed redness in his eyes. He tried several methods of eye-care and even removed his contacts, but the redness remained.

After being seen by an optometrist, he was informed that his contact lenses were eating away at his eye due to overwear.

The options he faced were grim with only one ray of hope that his eye would heal. If treatment failed, his eye would need to be surgically removed, or he would suffer permanent blindness.

“I almost went blind in my right eye,” Snyder said. “Now every night I clean my contacts, and never again will I sleep in them.”

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