Today’s soft contact lenses are quite remarkable little devices. They can correct for wide-ranging refractive errors; they can even correct for astigmatism. And they’re so comfortable we often forget we even have them in.
That comfort also creates problems, however. Wearers sometimes wear their soft lenses to sleep, in the pool, or even taking a morning shower.
At Wilkinson Eye Center, we tell our patients not to do that. Some contacts claim to be 24-hour wear, and the implication is that you could wear them for days at a time without taking them out. But that’s a very bad idea, and since everyone vows to make changes with resolutions this time of year, let’s devote this final blog of a forgettable 2021 to being smarter with your contact lens wearing habits.
The problems with wearing contacts for too long
Part of the problem is the “extended wear” moniker people see on their contact lens boxes. They assume this means these contacts are meant to be worn for a few days, including while sleeping. But some serious eye problems can develop if you do so. There are problems when people wear their soft contacts overnight when sleeping, namely dangerous infections and corneal ulcers, among other things. These conditions can cause permanent vision loss, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The usual culprit is called keratitis, the clinical term for inflammation of the cornea. According to the CDC, keratitis is responsible for about one million outpatient and emergency room visits each year.
People who wear their contact lenses when sleeping have a ten times greater risk of developing corneal infections. When you sleep and your eyes are closed, it favors microbial (germ) growth. This is because there is a drop is tear production (which periodically washes your cornea) and a rise in temperature and humidity. Plus, the lenses can cause microtrauma to the surface of the cornea, helping the germs have a place to lodge.
Another reason for problems is that our corneas don’t receive oxygen from our blood supply; they receive oxygen only from the outside atmosphere. Wearing contact lenses further reduces the oxygen while asleep. This limits the ability of the cornea to fight off microbes.
Another common problem of people who sleep in their contacts, according to the CDC, is that they tend to shower with them in place, as well. Tap water, just like water in lakes, pools, ponds, and oceans, can have microbes that can lead to serious eye infection.
The best solution, according to the CDC, is to opt for daily wear lenses. That way you don’t even have to fuss with lens solution and lens cases (another prime spot for lackadaisical care, allowing contact contamination). You simply wear a new pair every day and discard them when you go to bed.
Or, if you like your extended care lenses, wear them like daily wear lenses. Take them out every night and wash them thoroughly in new cleaning solution. Then place them in their case in new cleaning solution. In the morning, rinse them in new solution and place them in your eyes. Let the lens cases dry all day before you put the lenses back in that night.
Soft contact lenses are a great way to ditch your eyeglasses and make life easier but respect your lenses and your eyes. Don’t sleep, shower, or swim in them. And if you develop a painful red inflammation in your eye or eyes, give us a call at Wilkinson Eye Center, (248) 334-4931.