Around 45 million people in the U.S. are contact lens wearers. This eyewear is one of the most effective methods of correcting refractive errors. Individuals who want to see clearly without affecting their appearance will benefit from contact lenses. Contacts are safe to wear if you use and care for them properly. Not following the instructions given by your optometrist or optician could have serious consequences, including severe eye infections.
Keep reading to learn what can happen if you overwear your contact lenses.
Consequences of Overwearing Contact Lenses
Wearing contact lenses days or weeks past their expiration date can encourage bacterial growth. It’s the same for sleeping without removing your contacts first. Oxygen won’t be able to pass through your eyes if you sleep in your contact lenses. Since you’re not blinking as you sleep, it creates the ideal environment for bacteria to grow and spread.
When you sleep while wearing your contact lenses, a scratch might develop on your eye. When a bacteria gets into that scratch, your eyes could get severely hurt. Staphylococcus aureus is a bacteria found in your nose that could access your eyes when you don’t wash your hands properly. Then, there is also pseudomonas aeruginosa, which is a fast-moving bacteria that can cause severe corneal infection. Immediate treatment is necessary to avoid significant vision loss.
After an eye exam, you’ll know if you have a refractive error that needs to be corrected. Contact lenses are a great alternative for people who don’t prefer glasses. However, you must clean and take care of them properly to reduce the likelihood of eye infections.
Contact lens wearers are more prone to keratitis or corneal infection. Pink eye or conjunctivitis are also often associated with overwearing contact lenses. Redness, tearing, swelling and blurred vision characterize eye infections. Sufferers might also experience light sensitivity, eye pain and an itching or burning sensation. If you believe you have an eye infection, contact your eye doctor right away to receive appropriate treatment and avoid vision loss.
The lack of oxygen supply to the cornea is called corneal hypoxia. Your cornea can only get oxygen through the air. This part of your eye has tiny blood vessels, but they don’t create sufficient oxygen. Wearing contacts prevents the cornea from receiving enough oxygen.
Overwearing contact lenses will cause the cornea to swell or develop edema. Lactic acid is what makes your muscles sore after strenuous movement or exercise. This substance will build up in the cornea when you wear contacts too long. It will bring excessive water to the cornea, resulting in edema.
Your cornea can usually recover from a little edema. In fact, mild corneal edema is common whenever you sleep since your lids are restricting oxygen. Wearing contact lenses might reduce the amount of oxygen that gets into your eyes, but only a mild amount, which doesn’t normally cause issues. The edema typically goes away by itself a few hours or days after removing your contact lenses.
Switching to gas-permeable lenses could be recommended for individuals with moderate hypoxia. Patients with more severe forms of corneal hypoxia might experience blurry or hazy vision. Worst case scenario, cysts might develop. Once cysts form, an eye surgeon would have to remove them. Contact your eye doctor immediately if you have any of these symptoms. Keep in mind that certain types of infections require immediate treatment to prevent vision loss.
Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis
Redness, swelling and irritation are typical symptoms of giant papillary conjunctivitis (GPC). Individuals who wear contacts, especially soft lenses, have a higher risk of developing this eye condition. Aside from overwearing contacts, it could occur due to an allergic reaction to the chemicals in contact lens solutions. It’s also more common in contact lens wearers with hay fever, asthma and other allergies.
When GPC first develops, the inside of the lids will become rough, red and swollen. Bumps or papillae could later grow as big as a pimple. Patients may feel as if there is a foreign object in their eye. Some feel like their contacts are moving up on their eyeballs as they blink. Pain and itchiness are also common symptoms of GPC.
GPC must be treated immediately before it causes irreversible damage to the eyelids and cornea. Once the cornea gets damaged, you won’t be able to see clearly. If you have this eye condition, you should discontinue contact lens wear for a few weeks until your eyes heal. Your eye doctor might prescribe eye drops or ointment to minimize itching and swelling. They might suggest changing your contacts and avoiding solutions containing preservatives.
Contact Lens Wear and Care Safety Tips
Follow Your Eye Doctor’s Replacement Schedule
Always follow your eye doctor’s instructions regarding contact lens wear and care. Discard your lenses as directed, and never reuse daily disposables. You should get rid of daily contact lenses after a day of use.
Don’t Forget to Replace Your Contact Lens Case
You still need to replace your contact lens case even if you clean it regularly. Over time, bacteria can contaminate the case. Replacing them every three months will help you avoid eye infections.
Always Wash and Dry Your Hands Before Handling Contact Lenses
Before touching your contact lenses, wash your hands with soap, and dry them thoroughly. Bacteria and viruses can easily travel to your eyes through your hands. Drying your hands before handling the lenses is essential because many bacteria that can cause infection are found in water.
Don’t Use Anything But the Contact Lens Solution Your Eye Doctor Recommended
Only use the solution your eye doctor recommended for cleaning, disinfecting and storing your contact lenses. Never use water or saliva to clean your contacts. Both contain different types of bacteria that are harmful to your eyes. Using saline to clean or disinfect your contacts is also not a good idea. Keep in mind that you can only use contact lens solution once. Always use a fresh solution each time you take off and store your lenses.
Avoid Wearing Your Contacts Near Bodies of Water
Viruses and bacteria thriving in water can latch on the contact lenses and infect your eyes. Wearing contacts near pools, hot tubs, lakes, oceans and other bodies of water increases the risk of Acanthamoeba keratitis. It is a severe eye infection caused by an amoeba found in water. This infection is often difficult to treat and causes extreme pain. When not addressed immediately, it can lead to blindness.
Don’t Sleep in Your Contact Lenses
You are eight times more likely to develop an eye infection when you sleep in your contact lenses. One in every 10,000 people who sleep in their contacts overnight develops microbial keratitis. This eye infection causes corneal inflammation, leading to irreversible vision loss or blindness.
See Your Eye Doctor Regularly
Regularly visiting your eye doctor for an eye examination will benefit your vision and eye health. It can help with the early detection and treatment of eye conditions that can cause vision loss. Routine eye exams also ensure you are wearing the correct prescription eyewear. You may need to see your eye care provider more frequently if you have certain conditions or are at higher risk of developing an eye disease.