Microbial keratitis is a potentially binding disease that is rare in normal eyes unless associated with contact lens (CL) wear. To assess the risks of CL use, and other major causes, for keratitis, a case-control study of 91 cases of keratitis including 60 CL users was done. Relative risks (RR) and population attributable risk percentages (PAR%) for keratitis were estimated for different causes and for the different types of CL. The RR (95% confidence intervals) for CL wear was 80 (38-166) and for trauma cases 14 (6-32) compared with cases of keratitis without a predisposing condition. The PAR% for microbial keratitis attributed to CL wear was 65%. The RR for overnight wear soft lenses was 21 (7-60), for daily-wear soft lenses 3.6 (1-14), and for polymethylmethacrylate hard lenses 1.3 (0-9) compared with gas-permeable hard lenses. Continuous periods of CL wear for more than 6 days was associated with increased risk. CL wear is now the commonest cause, and has the highest risk, for new cases of microbial keratitis at Moorfields Eye Hospital. Soft CLs, especially extended-wear lenses, carry a significantly higher risk than do hard lenses for this disease.