After a long day, it’s tempting to just crawl into bed and skip the nighttime routine of removing and disinfecting your contact lenses. They’re disposables, so sleeping in them will be fine, right?
Unfortunately, that is not the case. All contact lenses, regardless of the brand or type, should be removed every evening, cleaned and stored in sterile solution. Sleeping in your contacts or over-wearing your contacts puts you at risk for corneal infections and corneal abrasions. According to the journal Ophthalmology, people who occasionally wore their contacts overnight were 6.5 times more likely to develop keratitis, or inflammation of the cornea.
Your cornea needs oxygen to function properly, and wearing contact lenses at night acts as a barrier between your cornea and the oxygen it requires. When the eye doesn’t get enough oxygen, a condition called corneal neovascularization can occur in which small blood vessels grow in the cornea in order to provide an oxygen supply to the area. This condition is irreversible, and you are much more susceptible to corneal neovascularization when you sleep in your contacts or over-wear your contacts.
If you do happen to fall asleep in your contacts, do not panic. It will be tempting to make a mad dash to your bathroom mirror and remove your lenses immediately, but don’t do it. You probably will not remember to wash your hands, and this can put your eyes at risk for infection. When you sleep in your contacts, your cornea swells and opens gaps between the cells, making your eyes even more susceptible to bacteria.
A better choice is to wash your hands and apply rewetting drops to add moisture to your eyes. Wait for several minutes for the swelling to go down, and then carefully remove your contacts. Give them a thorough cleaning with disinfecting solution, store them in a clean case and wear your glasses for the day to give your corneas plenty of oxygen.
If you wear contact lenses, ask your eye doctor to advise you on how many hours you should wear your contacts each day. Dispose of your contacts according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and do not try to get an extra few days or weeks out of a lens. You can damage your vision without feeling any pain or discomfort, so follow all instructions on disposal, cleaning and care. Annual comprehensive eye exams are the most effective way to monitor your contact lens care. Use your time during the exam to ask your eye doctor pertinent questions about your contact lenses. Express your concerns, even if they seem trivial. A quality exam is always a worthwhile investment.
If you do not have an eye care specialist in your area, find a physician today.