Contact Lenses, Medical Devices Injure 70K+ Children, Teens


Has your child ever left his or her contact lenses in too long without cleaning them? Injuries associated with contact lenses and other medical devices send more than 70,000 children and teens to emergency departments each year, according to a new study appearing in Pediatrics.

Researchers at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), who conducted this first detailed national estimate of medical device injuries in children and teens, discovered that about 25 percent of the problems they uncovered were related to the misuse of contact lenses. Typical problems included infections and corneal abrasions, an injury to the transparent tissue that covers the front of the eye.

The remaining injuries fell into 12 other categories, and the more common ones included puncture wounds from hypodermic needles that broke off in patients during injection or from illegal drug use, infections in children who have ear tubes, and skin tears from pelvic instruments used during gynecological exams in adolescent girls.

Among the most serious episodes were problems with implanted devices, including brain shunts for children with hydrocephalus (an accumulation of cerebral spinal fluid on the brain). According to the National Hydrocephalus Foundation, this condition is one of the most common birth defects, occurring in about 1 of every 500 births.


Other medical device injuries uncovered in the FDA study included chest catheters for patients with cancer who receive their chemotherapy at home and insulin pumps for type 1 diabetes. The problems with all of these devices typically involved infections and overdoses, resulting in the need for hospitalization in 6 percent of patients.

The study was headed by Dr. Cunlin Wang and co-author Dr. Brock Hefflin, both of whom work in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. The research team analyzed data from ER visits reported in a national injury surveillance system. They uncovered an estimate 144,799 complications related to medical device use during 2004 and 2005, averaging out to more than 70,000 yearly. While this number is disturbingly high, it does not include medical device problems in children who are already hospitalized.

According to Dr. Steven Krug, who heads emergency medicine at Chicago’s Children’s Memorial Hospital and who was not involved in the study, these results bring to light a trade-off that allows chronically ill children to stay home while being treated, a position that is challenging for families. Krug noted that “health care providers need to be aware of these kids and their devices and how to recognize or diagnose” problems that can arise.

Aside from the injuries related to contact lens misuse, one reason for the high number of medical device injuries in children may be that many devices are intended for use in adults. Researchers are now trying to determine how and why the problems occurred and how often they also happen in adults. The FDA may issue device warnings, depending on their findings.

National Hydrocephalus Foundation
National Institutes of Health
Pediatrics online
This page is updated on May 9, 2013.


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Many people don't take the precautions of contact lens use seriously and are then injured
I agree. Contact lens wearers need to better understand how seriously they can damage their eyes and their vision if they don't take precautions. I think that one reason people don't take lens use more seriously is that we now have lenses you can wear for weeks without taking them out and disposable lenses, which gives the impression they are harmless, throw-away items.