What's worse: wearing glasses, or having weird bacteria accumulate on your eyeball?
Wearing contact lenses alters your eye's natural microbiota, researchers at New York University School of Medicine found. According to their recent study, contact lenses cause the bacteria in your eyes to more closely resemble the bacteria you'd find on your skin.
"Wearing contact lenses is known to increase the risk of microbial keratitis and other inflammatory eye conditions," senior study author Maria Dominguez-Bello, an associate professor of medicine at NYU, told Time.
That being the case, the researchers hypothesized that wearing contact lenses may be linked to changes in the eye's microbe population. They split trial participants into two groups: contact lens wearers and non-lens wearers. Then they swabbed the participants' conjunctivas — the mucus membranes covering the front of the eyes — and the skin under the eyes to compare the groups' bacterial communities.
The people who wore contact lenses "had more variable and skin-like bacterial community structures," according to the study. Compared to people who didn't wear contacts, the lens wearers' eyes had more methylobacterium, lactobacillus, acinetobacter and pseudomonas, and less haemophilus, streptococcus, staphylococcus and corynebacterium.
What does it mean? For now, the study simply confirms that contact lenses do, in fact, invite new bacteria to live in your eyes.
But will it hurt us? Unclear. Further research is needed to understand how that altered microbiota might contribute to harmful eye conditions. After all, our bodies' natural bacteria are there to protect us from invaders. If those natural bacteria are compromised, do we have less protection from eye infections?
As the researchers put it, the study "has the potential to help future studies explore novel insights into a possible role of the microbiome in the increased risk for eye infections in contact lens wearers."
For now, though, we're sticking with glasses.