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New research shows that wearing contact lenses could significantly change the bacteria of the eye’s surface, making it more susceptible to infection. NYU Langone Medical Center researchers analyzed swabs from both contact-wearers and non-wearers to determine the number and type of bacterial species that lived on the surface of their eyes—the eye’s microbiome as well as the skin below the eye.

They found that the eye microbiome of contact lens wearers is more similar in composition to the microbiome of their skin than the eye microbiome of non-lens wearers.

Note that infections often come when people don’t take proper care of their lenses—sleeping in them overnight, or not cleaning them well or often enough so most eye doctors have shifted to recommending daily lenses. 

From Medical News Today: Alterations to the eye microbiome of contact lens wearers may increase infections

Contact lens wearers - ever wondered why you are more likely to experience eye infections than your contacts-less friends? Researchers from NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City think they may have found the answer, in a study that used high-precision genetic tests to map the human microbiome....the NYU Langone researchers report that micro-organisms residing in the eyes of people who wear contact lenses daily more closely resemble micro-organisms residing in eyelid skin than the bacteria usually found in the eyes of people who do not wear contacts.

The researchers took hundreds of swabs of different parts of the eye, including the skin directly beneath the eye. Genetic analysis of swabs and used contact lenses allowed the team to identify which bacteria were present. Comparing nine contact lens wearers with 11 non-contacts users, the team found three times the usual proportion of the bacteria Methylobacterium, Lactobacillus, Acinetobacter and Pseudomonas on the eye surfaces (conjunctiva) of contact lens wearers than on the eye surfaces of the control group.

Examining the bacterial diversity using a plotted graph, the team observed that the eye microbiome of contact lens wearers is more similar in composition to the microbiome of their skin than the eye microbiome of non-lens wearers

Interestingly, the researchers say, Staphylococcus bacteria was found in greater amounts in the eyes of non-lens wearers. Staphylococcus is linked with eye infections, but is usually more prominent on the skin. However, the researchers are unable to explain why non-lens wearers have greater amounts of this bacteria, despite this group traditionally having fewer eye infections than people who wear contacts.

Study author Dr. Jack Dodick, professor and chair of ophthalmology at NYU Langone, says:"There has been an increase in the prevalence of corneal ulcers following the introduction of soft contact lenses in the 1970s. A common pathogen implicated has been Pseudomonas. This study suggests that because the offending organisms seem to emanate from the skin, greater attention should be directed to eyelid and hand hygiene to decrease the incidence of this serious occurrence."