Unfortunately, despite frequent reminders from health professionals about the dangers of sleeping with contact lenses still on, many people have yet to break the bad habit. One possible reason is that a lot of patients don’t fully understand the risks. After all, it’s easy to forget something if it doesn’t seem too important.
That’s why your local optician compiled a guide on the risks of sleeping with your contact lenses on overnight.
How Wearing Contacts Affects Your Eyes
Wearing contact lenses can deprive your cornea of oxygen. The cornea gets oxygen from the air instead of blood vessels. While it’s fine to wear contacts during the day, wearing them overnight can significantly reduce the amount of oxygen your eyes receive, leading to complications.
What Could Happen If You Fall Asleep While Wearing Your Contacts
With your eyelids shut and the contact lenses preventing oxygen from reaching the cornea, your eyes might suffer hypoxia or oxygen deprivation, which can in turn increase the risk of eye infections. Don’t forget that in addition to protecting your eyes from dust and other particles, your eyelids also help keep the cornea moist and free of impurities. Whenever you close your eyes, the eyelids spread a tear film that washes away any impurities on your cornea. However, since the eyelids are closed shut while you’re sleeping, your eyes’ ability to fight microbes, which thrive in moist, humid areas, is severely impaired.
What to Do if You Accidentally Wore Your Contact Lenses Overnight
Don’t panic. Although there is some degree of risk involved, leaving your contact lenses overnight just once is unlikely to cause serious damage. However, it could lead to a few complications, such as the following:
1. Keratitis – This condition is caused by the inflammation of the cornea. Most cases of keratitis stem from the improper use of contact lenses. Symptoms include red, irritated, watery eyes, sensitivity to light, blurred vision and pain around the eyes that lingers even after taking off the contact lenses.
2. Dry eyes – Your cornea might not be able to receive enough oxygen if you leave your contacts in overnight, which can cause dry eyes. Symptoms may include eye fatigue, stringy mucus around the eyes, a stinging sensation in the eyes and red eyes.
3. Corneal abrasion – Contact lenses or the act of removing them can scratch the cornea, especially if it’s dry, leaving it vulnerable to infections. Symptoms typically include red eyes, hypersensitivity to light, discomfort, blurry vision, eye twitching and nausea occasionally.
Regardless of whether you experience any eye irritation or symptoms, if you forgot to take out your contact lenses before sleeping, you should see your local optometrist for an eye exam as soon as possible.
Extended-Wear Contact Lenses
If you often forget to take your contact lenses off before bedtime, wearing extended contact lenses can help reduce the risk of complications. There are two types of contact lenses: daily wear and extended wear. Daily-wear contact lenses should only be worn while you’re awake, while extended-wear lenses can be worn overnight.
Extended-wear contact lenses are thinner than regular contact lenses, allowing oxygen to reach your cornea. Most extended-wear contact lenses can be worn for seven days continuously, although you can wear some extended-wear contact lenses for up to 30 days. Keep in mind that this is the maximum amount of time you can wear extended-wear contact lenses—most people can only tolerate wearing these lenses for a few days.
Don’t forget that you’ll need a prescription to buy contact lenses, including extended-wear contacts, so if you’re considering a new pair, you should see your optician first. Most eye professionals would recommend buying extended-wear gas permeable (GP) lenses. Since GP lenses can move freely every time you blink, there’s a lower risk that microbes and other particles will get trapped under the lenses.
The FDA regulates the sale and distribution of contact lenses, but some boutique shops still sell cosmetic contact lenses. Remember: contact lenses are not one-size-fits-all devices and therefore should never be bought over-the-counter (OTC). It’s likely that OTC lenses have not been approved by the FDA.
Here are a few more reminders about purchasing contact lenses:
- Make sure your prescription is up-to-date. The expiration date can be found on the prescription. If it’s not there, federal and state laws usually set the expiration date not less than a year from the date the prescription was issued. As such, eye health professionals recommend undergoing an eye examination at least once every year.
- Only purchase contact lenses from clinics, pharmacies, or licensed optical wear shops.
- You can request the supplier to give you the manufacturer’s written instructions for the contact lenses.
Should you experience any pain or discomfort after putting on your contact lenses, remove them but don’t throw them away. Bringing your lenses to eye doctor can help them pinpoint the cause of the complications when you see them for an eye exam.
Caring for Your Contact Lenses
You can also reduce the risk of eye infections by cleaning your lenses properly. Here are a few tips:
- Remove your contact lenses before swimming.
- Wash your hands before cleaning or putting on your contact lenses.
- Before using the lens-cleaning solution, read the instructions on the label—cleaning solutions that contain hydrogen peroxide should be handled with care.
- Avoid exposing your contact lenses to water—there could be microorganisms hiding there.
- Do not reuse the cleaning solution or mix old bottles with new ones. Throw away leftover cleaning solution and refill the lens case with new solution.
- Do not transfer the lens-cleaning solution to smaller travel-sized unsterile bottles.
- Lens cases should be replaced every three months.
Vision Health Tips
Your eyes can fight infections better if they’re in good shape. To that end, here are some general vision health tips:
- Maintain a healthy diet – Include antioxidant-rich foods, like green leafy vegetables, as well as fatty fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, in your diet. In particular, omega-3 fatty acids can help keep the macula, the part of the eye that’s responsible for central vision, in good health.
- Minimize your consumption of artery-clogging saturated fats – Your eyes’ blood vessels are particularly thin, so any blockages in your arteries can adversely affect your vision.
- Exercise Regularly – Exercise can help improve blood flow and prevent health conditions that can affect your vision, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
- Wear sunglasses while you’re outside – Convenience store sunglasses may not provide sufficient protection from UVA and UVB rays. Make sure to purchase sunglasses with UV-resistant lenses from a licensed optical shop or clinic.
- Follow the 20-20-20 rule while using digital devices – The glare and blue light from the screen on your phone, tablet or laptop can strain your eyes. Taking a break and looking away at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes can help minimize eye strain.
- See your optician for an eye examination at least once a year – New complications with your vision might have developed since your last visit, which is why you should have your eyes examined every year.
- Know your family history – Genetics can increase your risk for certain health conditions, like age-related macular degeneration or glaucoma.
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