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You may wear contact lenses to improve your vision because of one of the following refractive errors:
However, these thin, transparent plastic disks pose certain health risks, especially when you wear them overnight.
You are recommended not to leave contact lenses in because oxygen does not reach your eyes efficiently. When this happens, cells in the cornea go into a state of hypoxia (low oxygen). A low-oxygen environment also promotes bacterial growth.
This primary cause and other physiological reasons could increase your likelihood of developing an eye infection. If severe enough, the infection could even lead to permanent vision loss.
When you sleep in any type of contact lenses, your risk of microbial keratitis (a severe corneal infection) increases by 6 to 8 times.
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When you sleep in contacts, you don’t let your eyes breathe properly. In other words, oxygen does not fully reach the surface of the eye because of the contact lenses.
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When this happens, your eye can grow more blood vessels, and you can experience redness and irritation. You can also have other problems with the cornea.
Contact lens wearers may find that removing contact lenses becomes more difficult because of dryness. In these cases, you are recommended to use contact lens rewetting eye drops before taking out the lenses. Doing this will help prevent damage to the corneal surface.
Contact lenses have some side effects and risks.
As mentioned before, you can develop redness, irritation, or dryness of the eye. The severity of this problem can vary depending on the type of contact lenses you’re wearing when you go to sleep.
As you’ll read later on, though, some contact lenses are more suitable for overnight wear. Differences in material and design allow for better oxygen flow.
Yet, even then, the risk of eye infection is still present.
Here is a list of symptoms associated with contact lens-related infections:
Some contact lens-related eye infections can cause serious vision loss or even blindness. If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to see your optometrist as soon as possible.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18-20 microbial keratitis infections will occur annually in every 10,000 people who leave in their contact lenses overnight.
If you fall asleep with your contact lenses still in, there are a couple of steps you should take immediately afterwards:
Non-prescription contact lenses can result in serious eye problems and even lead to a corneal transplant. If you wear these overnight, the risk increases. It is important to speak with an eye doctor before using this type of lens.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved different kinds of contact lens for day and overnight wear. These include:
The risk of microbial keratitis is higher in people who use extended-wear lenses.
If you fall asleep with your contact lenses still in, you should remove your contact lenses immediately and wear eyeglasses for at least a day. If it is too difficult to take out the lenses, place some contact lens rewetting drops in your eyes. This will help provide some extra lubrication and dislodge the lenses without damaging the corneal surface.
If you have extended wear contact lenses, it is possible to sleep with them in for one hour. But each time you sleep with contacts, even if for an hour, you increase your risk of an eye infection. It is recommended to avoid falling asleep with the contact lenses still in.
Sleeping in contact raises your risk of infection because your eye does not receive enough oxygen or remain optimally moist to fight off harmful bacteria and viruses. Also, certain bacteria like Pseudomonas aeruginosa may find it easier to colonize the contact lenses if left in for more extended periods.
Sleeping with contacts may cause headaches, although not always. The headaches may occur because of dry eyes caused by the lack of oxygen flow and moisture. When you have dry eyes, you can become more sensitive to light and squint in response. This constant squinting can sometimes trigger a muscle tension headache.
You should visit your ophthalmology clinic if you suspect you have an eye infection. It is important that you bring your contact lens case with you. Do not throw your contact lenses away. Your eye doctor can culture the lens to understand and treat the source of your eye problem.
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Boyd, K. (2020, June 23). Contact lens-related eye infections. Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/contact-lens-related-eye-infections
Boyd, K. (2021, March 04). Contact lenses for vision correction. Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://www.aao.org/eye-health/glasses-contacts/contact-lens-102
Fleiszig, S., & Evans, D. (2010, April). Pathogenesis of contact lens-associated microbial keratitis. Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4379041/
Show me the science. (2016, September 14). Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/contactlenses/show-me-the-science.html
Turbert, D. (2020, June 19). What is bacterial keratitis? Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://www.aao.org/eye-health/glasses-contacts/what-is-bacterial-keratitis
What happens to your eyes when you sleep in your contacts. (2020, November 10). Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-does-sleeping-in-your-contacts-do-to-your-eyes/