One of the most common misuse of contact lenses is wearing them overnight. Sleeping with any contact lens decreases the amount of oxygen available to the eye and may increase the chances of infection. Newer contact lenses may alleviate this issue to some extent, but the general recommendation by most eye healthcare professionals is to remove them overnight.
No type of contact lenses should be worn overnight.
Wearing contact lenses overnight decreases oxygen to the eye and increases potential mechanical eye trauma.
Wearing contact lenses overnight increases the chances of infectious corneal ulcers or keratitis.
If you slept overnight with your contact lenses in, don't put them back in your eye and bring them to your doctor if you think you have developed an eye infection.
Types of contact lenses
Contact lenses are designed to replace eyeglasses. They are also used to treat certain eye conditions or for cosmetic purposes such as changing the color of your eyes. They are not designed the be worn overnight.
Successful contact lens wearers must have healthy eyes and be able to closely follow the instructions given to them by their eye healthcare professional. Care of the contact lenses is important, as is the proper use.
There are two main types of contact lenses used today. They are soft lenses and rigid gas-permeable lenses. Hard contact lenses are rarely used except for treating specific eye diseases such as keratoconus or thinning and cone-shaped bulging of the cornea.
Most people who wear contact lenses want to avoid wearing glasses because they are near-sighted (myopic), far-sighted (hyperopic), or astigmatism (imperfection of the cornea). Contact lenses are also popular among patients who have undergone cataract surgery because they can act as a bandage to alleviate pain.
Some contact lenses are meant for daily wear. They are designed for only one day’s use and are to be discarded.
Most other contact lenses are soft or rigid gas permeable (RPG) and can be worn repeatedly by cleaning and disinfecting them overnight. With proper care, RPG lenses can last for years.
Wearing contact lenses can be very satisfying, and many people experience great results. However, contact lenses can carry significant risks, particularly if the wearer doesn’t use them properly.
Guidelines for caring for contact lenses
Wearing your contacts overnight or for too long can cause eye infections if they are not regularly and properly cleaned. Additionally, if debris accumulates on your lenses, you risk scratching your eyes. Properly caring for your contact lenses will extend their life and prevent eye damage. Follow these tips for caring for your contact lenses:
- Wash your hands before touching your contact lenses — dry your hands thoroughly as well, so water does not touch the contact lenses.
- Rub and rinse contact lenses as instructed.
- Do not top off contact lens solutions with unapproved products — particularly not with tap water.
- Don’t try to make your own salt solution — always purchase approved contact lens solutions.
- Never wear someone else’s contact lenses.
- Always apply eye makeup after inserting contact lenses in your eyes.
Additionally, don’t trust contact lenses not sold by an eye healthcare provider. This includes beauty supply stores, flea markets, street vendors, and the internet.
If you start having problems with contact lenses, make an appointment to see an eyesore specialist. Never ignore eye redness, itching, burning, irritation, or blurred vision, as this could indicate a more serious issue. This is particularly true if you fall asleep with your contact lenses in your eyes.
Wearing contacts overnight increases the risk of infection
Wearing extended-wear contact lenses overnight carries a far greater risk of corneal infections or ulcerative keratitis than wearing daily-wear contact lenses during the day. Therefore, using a daily-wear contact lens is better than wearing extended-wear ones overnight.
Sleeping in daily-wear contact lenses also increases the risks of ulcerative keratitis but to a slightly lesser degree. However, both types of lenses can carry substantial risk.
Part of the risk of wearing contact lenses overnight may also result from inadequate contact lens care. Extended-wear contact lens wearers may have a slightly more significant risk because their lenses and cases require more meticulous cleaning.
It appears that ulcerative keratitis due to overnight wearing also may be due to a combination of hypoxia (low oxygen) to the eye and direct mechanical trauma to the cornea.
It is unclear whether the organisms that cause infection originate from contact lens manipulation, equipment such as cases, or proliferation on the surface of the contact lenses.
Though vision loss due to microbial keratitis is rare, it occurs more frequently with extended-wear soft contact lenses than with extended-wear silicone hydrogel contact lenses. However, vision loss can be permanent if not diagnosed in time.
What if I sleep with contact lenses in?
First of all, don't panic. Chances are you will be fine. However, don’t make it a habit.
If you begin having discomfort or pain, it's prudent to check with your ophthalmologist. This would be especially true if the pain is associated with excessive tearing or other discharge, unusual sensitivity to light, or a gritty feeling in the eye.
Another reason for concern may be marked redness, blurred vision, or any swelling in or around the eye, which includes the eyelids.
Redness of the eye is a telltale sign that there may be something wrong, but it does not tell the doctor what exactly may be wrong. Red eyes can be misdiagnosed too. You may have a mild case of pink eye which has nothing to do with your sleeping overnight with the contact lenses in your eyes.
What if I slept with them and must see a doctor?
If you still have the contacts in your eyes, remove them and do not put them back in.
Don’t delay. If you think there is a potential problem with one of your eyes because you fell asleep with them, the ophthalmologist must see you as soon as possible to provide the most effective treatment.
If you're having an eye issue, always save your contact lenses before seeing the ophthalmologist. If you do have a serious infection such as keratitis, the ophthalmologist will use the lenses to determine the cause of your symptoms. The doctor will examine and culture them to identify a particular microorganism, so proper treatment can be initiated.
If you have bacterial keratitis or an infection of the cornea because of sleeping with your contact lenses, you will need eye drops with antibiotics and possibly steroids. The organisms usually responsible include Staphylococcus aureus or Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which are commonly found in humans and the environment.
- Cleveland Clinic. What Happens to Your Eyes When You Sleep in Your Contacts.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Travel Tips for People Who Wear Contact Lenses.
- Forbes Magazine. How Sleeping With Contact Lenses Can Hurt Your Eyes, Graphic Pictures Show.
- The New England Journal of Medicine. The Relative Risk of Ulcerative Keratitis among Users of Daily-Wear and Extended-Wear Soft Contact Lenses.