The U.K. contact lens community is in an uproar after three articles within a month in The Sun newspaper told of lens wearers losing an eye. An executive from the industry, the British Contact Lens Association and the Association of Contact Lens Manufacturers are all getting involved in the commotion.
The first incident was reported in the newspaper on Feb. 1. A woman who bought Ciba Vision Focus Dailies one-day contact lenses online wore them one day, but said they were uncomfortable. Her doctor prescribed eyedrops, but it was an infection caused by Fusarium and it became so severe that doctors had to remove her eye. Alcon, the maker of the Focus Dailies, said that it had conducted an investigation and the lenses didn't have anything to do with the infection. Alcon also disputed The Sun's assertion that it owns Lenstore.co.uk, where the woman bought the lenses.
As a result of this report, the BCLA issued a statement encouraging consumers to buy their lenses in person from a registered eye care professional. Catherine Chisholm, the president of the group, said the people who buy contact lenses online are less likely to go to after-care checkups and follow other healthy eye practices. She said that people who bought lenses online were 4.8 times more likely to develop microbial keratitis, a corneal inflammation that can threaten one's vision.
After the BCLA's statement, Dean Butler, the founder of Lenscrafters and a board member at Glassesdirect, which sells prescription glasses and contact lenses online, challenged Chisholm. He wrote to the BCLA requesting third-party research proving her assertions and asking for clarification about what constitutes healthy eye practices.
Though Chisholm provided four research papers published in peer-reviewed journals, Butler asserted that compliance was actually better among people who buy contact lenses online because of ease of purchase and likelihood of more frequent purchases. In addition, he said that research in the U.S. has shown that lens wearers would prefer not to buy from an eye care professional, that they feel pressured and uncomfortable in person and would prefer to buy online. Chisholm said that the frequency with which lenses are replaced has not been found to be a factor in corneal infections.
In the following days, The Sun ran two more articles. On Feb. 12, it reported on a woman who developed a Fusarium infection while on holiday in Spain in October and had to have her cornea cut out. And then on Feb. 24, it told the story of a woman who went swimming with her contact lenses while on vacation in Turkey, also in October. This one was attributed to Acanthamoeba keratitis. Medical experts in the U.K. said it could have been caused by a shower in Britain.
The BCLA said that about 30,000 contact lens wearers are infected by Acanthamoeba keratitis, and 85 percent of the infections are related to contact lens wear.
In response to the recent spate of reports, the Association of Contact Lens Manufacturers said that it was preparing a formal statement, but that it was concerned by the attitude toward contact lenses.