Eye research charity poll shows Brits put their eyesight at risk through dangerous contact lens habits

09 July 19

written by:

Alice Mitchell

(more articles)

Research by Fight for Sight has highlighted the risky habits of British contact lens wearers, amid a three-fold increase in cases of a largely preventable sight-threatening eye infection called Acanthamoeba keratitis.

Of those Brits who wear contact lenses polled by YouGov on behalf of Fight for Sight, 56% admitted they’d worn their contact lenses for more than the limit of 12 hours a day; over half (54%) admitted to having gone swimming or showering in contact lenses, and 47% of contact lens wearing Brits admitted to having slept in them.

A significant number (15%) had put contact lenses in their mouth to clean or lubricate them, and two percent had even shared contact lenses with others when they had already been used.

According to the poll, only 27% of Brits who wear contact lenses know that wearing contact lenses that have been washed in water can be sight-threatening, highlighting a lack of awareness around the risks associated with exposing contact lenses to water. Nearly half (47%) said that information about the dangers of exposure to tap water was not clear on contact lens packaging or accompanying information materials.

Fight for Sight is raising awareness of the need to wash contact lenses in the correct solutions, after research funded by the charity last year showed a rise in cases of this type of eye infection. [1]

The charity also is urging manufacturers to make the ‘no water’ message clearer on packaging.

The most severely affected patients (a quarter of the total) have less than 25% of vision, face prolonged treatment or become blind following the disease. Overall, 25% of people affected require corneal transplants to treat the disease or restore vision.[2]

Dr Neil Ebenezer, Director of Research, Policy and Innovation at Fight for Sight, said:

"This type of infection can have serious consequence and even result in blindness, so the lack of awareness around the correct use of contact lenses is concerning. People who wear contact lenses need to make sure they thoroughly wash and dry their hands before handling them, and should avoid wearing them while swimming, face washing or bathing. Contact lens manufacturers should also do their part by making the ‘no water’ message clearer on all contact lens packaging and accompanying literature, and this message should be re-emphasised by opticians to ensure patients follow this important advice.”

Read about Anna's experience of Acanthamoeba keratitis


Read about Lauren's experience of Acanthamoeba keratitis

What is Acanthamoeba keratitis?

 Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK) is a sight-threatening infection of the cornea - the clear ‘window’ at the front of the eye - and can be very painful. The infection is caused by a microscopic organism called Acanthamoeba, which is common in nature and is usually found in bodies of water (lakes, oceans and rivers) as well as domestic tap water, swimming pools, hot tubs, soil and air.

Acanthamoeba keratitis currently affects roughly 1.2 to 3 million people each year across the world, and contact lens wearers constitute ≥90% of affected patients in the UK.[1]

Using tap water to clean or store contact lenses, contaminating lenses with tap, pool or hot tub water and having poor contact lens hygiene increases the risk of infection. Examples of poor lens hygiene are not using disinfection solutions properly, reusing the solution in the contact lens case, failing to empty and dry the contact lens case after use and storing lenses in water overnight.

Wearing contact lenses when swimming or taking a shower also increases risk, as does putting in lenses with wet hands from tap water.


Acanthamoeba keratitis needs immediate attention, as it can result in permanent visual impairment or complete sight loss. It’s difficult to treat, with treatment requiring prolonged use of antiseptic and sometimes antibiotic eye drops. Painkillers may also be necessary.

The most serious infections will need a corneal transplant, which involves surgery to remove the damaged cornea and replace it with a healthy one from a suitable donor.
Fight for Sight, who established the UK corneal transplant service in 1983, is actively campaigning to raise awareness of the preventable nature of Acanthamoeba keratitis through proper contact lens care, believing there is a lack of information from contact lens dispensers and manufacturers on the risks associated with exposing contact lenses to water. Fight for Sight is actively encouraging contact lens manufacturers to provide more contact lens care literature in all packaging.

You can read more on Acanthamoeba keratitis here.


[1] Carnt, N., J. J. Hoffman, S. Verma, S. Hau, C. F. Radford, D. C. Minassian and J. K. G. Dart (2018). "Acanthamoeba keratitis: confirmation of the UK outbreak and a prospective case-control study identifying contributing risk factors." Br J Ophthalmol.

Lim, C. H. L., F. Stapleton and J. S. Mehta (2019). "A review of cosmetic contact lens infections." Eye 33(1): 78-86.

[2] https://www.moorfields.nhs.uk/news/outbreak-preventable-eye-infection-contact-lens-wearers