Are Contacts Bad For Your Eyes?
Contact lenses are medical devices approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to correct common vision problems, including:
- Nearsightedness and farsightedness
- Astigmatism (blurry vision)
- Presbyopia (trouble with near vision in aging adults)
Approximately 45 million people in the U.S. wear contact lenses. Ninety percent of wearers use soft contact lenses. Many people choose contact lenses over glasses because they do not affect their appearance or interfere with sports or physical activities.1
There are many benefits to wearing contact lenses, including improved vision. However, a lack of proper contact lens hygiene can lead to an eye infection and other complications.
Common misuses of contact lenses include:
- Wearing them to bed
- Not routinely cleaning or disinfecting the lenses with proper solution
- Wearing them in water (swimming, showering, bathing)
- Not storing them according to care instructions
- Using colored or costume contact lenses
What About Colored Contacts?
People often wear colored contacts to change eye color or as a fashion statement. Colored contacts are safe as long as they are prescribed and fitted by a licensed ophthalmologist.
Non-prescription colored contacts purchased from a store or vendor are dangerous and increase the risk of eye damage. It is illegal to sell non-prescription contact lenses due to the risk of eye infection, scratched cornea, and blindness.
Risks of Wearing Contact Lenses
1. Eye Infection (Keratitis)
Microbial keratitis (inflammation of the cornea) is a severe type of eye infection. It’s typically caused by contact lens wearers failing to follow care instructions.
Types of microbial keratitis include:
- Bacterial keratitis
- Fungal keratitis
- Parasitic keratitis
- Viral keratitis
It is essential to seek medical attention from an eye doctor if you experience symptoms of keratitis, including:
- Irritated red eyes
- Pain in and around the eyes, even after removal of contact lenses
- Sudden blurry vision
- Light sensitivity
- Unusual eye discharge
2. Corneal Abrasion
Contact lenses can cause a corneal abrasion (scratch or scrape on the cornea's surface) if they are torn or have a rough edge. Other causes include dry eyes, rubbing your eyes, and using makeup brushes.
Corneal abrasion symptoms include:
- Feeling that something is in your eye
- Blurry vision
- Red painful or irritated eyes
- Light sensitivity
A corneal abrasion typically takes about a week to heal. Treatment typically includes wearing a bandage contact lens and prescription eye drops. A corneal transplant may be necessary if the abrasion is severe and leaves an extensive scar.
People who wear contact lenses have an increased risk of contact lens-induced papillary conjunctivitis (CLPC). Using non-silicone hydrogel or daily disposable contact lenses can help decrease this risk.
Severe cases of CLPC can lead to giant papillary conjunctivitis (GPC), resulting in red, swollen, and irritated eyelids. It is essential to treat GPC right away to avoid eyelid and cornea damage.
Symptoms of GPC include:
- Red, painful, itchy eyes
- Excess mucus in the eye
- Droopy eyelids
- Feeling like your contact lens is moving up your eyeball
GPC treatment includes:
- Discontinuing contact lens use for a few weeks
- Medicated eye drops
- Changing the type of contact lenses
4. Corneal Ulcer
Corneal ulcers (an open sore on the cornea) can result from an eye infection or severe dry eyes. People who wear contact lenses are at an increased risk of developing a corneal ulcer.
A corneal ulcer is a medical emergency and should be treated immediately by an eye doctor to prevent permanent vision loss and blindness.
Symptoms of a corneal ulcer include:
- Severe eye pain and soreness
- Pus or discharge
- Blurred vision
- Light sensitivity
- Eyelid swelling
- A white spot on your cornea
Corneal ulcer treatment includes antibiotic and anti-inflammatory medicated eye drops. If symptoms persist after treatment, a corneal transplant may be necessary.
5. Dry Eyes
Wearing contact lenses for an extended period can cause dry eyes. As a result, your eyes don’t produce or make the right kind of tears. You are at an increased risk of infection, inflammation, and corneal ulcers without adequate tears.
Symptoms of dry eyes include:
- Stinging or burning sensation
- Blurred vision
- Scratchy or gritty feeling in your eye
- Mucus discharge
- Pain when wearing contact lenses
Dry eye treatment includes artificial tears, blocking tear ducts, and eliminating the cause of dry eye.
How to Prevent Eye Damage From Contacts
Taking care of your contact lenses and following proper instructions is the best way to prevent eye damage.
Caring for Contact Lenses
Cleaning and care of your contact lenses will depend on the lens type. The most effective way to prevent eye infections includes:
- Keeping a consistent schedule for wearing and changing your contact lenses
- Rubbing lenses when cleaning them
- Rinsing lenses with a store-bought solution, not water
- Storing your lenses in a clean case designed for contact lenses
- Changing the contact lens storage case at least three times a year
- Taking frequent breaks from wearing contact lenses
- Ordering new lenses as needed; don't try to extend the life of lenses
- Visiting your eye doctor annually for an eye exam
Do Not Wear Contact Lenses to Bed
Sleeping with contact lenses, even napping, significantly increases your risk of an eye infection. Prolonged use can lead to:
- Corneal abrasions
- Corneal ulcers
- Permanent vision loss
Water and Contact Lenses Don’t Mix
Eye doctors stress the importance of avoiding swimming, showering, and bathing while wearing contact lenses because of the increased risk of eye infection.
Prescription swim goggles can keep your vision clear while decreasing your chance of a corneal infection.
Contacts vs. Glasses (Pros and Cons)
Many people who require vision correction have both contact lenses and glasses. Both glasses and contacts have pros and cons regarding comfort and style.
Pros and Cons of Glasses
- Don’t require a lot of maintenance, just the occasional cleaning
- Convenient for grabbing and going
- Many styles to choose from
- Don’t have to touch your eyes
- Low risk of eye infection
- Can distort your peripheral vision (side vision)
- Can’t wear nonprescription sunglasses
- Lenses can fog up
- Not convenient for sports or physical activity
Pros and Cons of Contact Lenses
- Easier to play sports
- Don’t change your appearance
- Provide more natural vision
- Don’t fog up
- Allow you to wear sunglasses
- Require more care than eyeglasses
- Put you at risk for eye infections
- Require equipment (solution and case)
- May still need reading glasses with contacts
- Can be uncomfortable
- Takes time to get used to putting in contact lenses
Contact lenses are medical devices that correct common vision issues, including nearsightedness and farsightedness. As long as you follow care instructions, contacts are safe and effective.
However, wearing contact lenses can put you at a higher risk for eye infections and damage if not used appropriately. To ensure eye safety while wearing contact lenses, you should practice clean hygiene and avoid sleeping, swimming, and showering while wearing your lenses.
In this article
Best Places to Buy Contacts
1-800 Contacts is our #1 recommendation to buy contacts online.
GlassesUSA has a huge selection of contacts, glasses, & sunglasses.
Best Places to Buy Glasses
Warby Parker has stylish, high-quality frames at affordable prices.
Liingo Eyewear is another great option to buy glasses online.
Best on a Budget
EyeBuyDirect has a wide variety of budget frames starting at $6.