Whenever we put a patient into contact lenses we make it a point to explain that contacts are foreign to the human eye and it is possible to damage the eye from excessive overuse.
What harm can it do to wear my contacts 24-7?
People who wear their contacts more than what is recommended by their ophthalmologist or eye care professional can experience a wide variety of complications. The most common of these complications are dry, irritated, and red eyes. Once an eye becomes irritated from contact lens over wear, the best thing is to remove the contacts. By doing this, they eye is able to take in the oxygen that is prevented by the lenses and allows the eye to recover from the lens being on the eye.
If an irritated eye is not addressed soon enough, a contact lens wearer may develop an eye infection, in which case the contacts will have to be discontinued until the eye heals which can be a day to several weeks. If the infection is not resolved in time or should the contacts be restarted before the eyes recover, then there is a possibility that the patient may develop intolerance to the lenses and contacts will no longer be an option to correct vision.
Another common sign of contact lens over wear is neovasculation. When the eye is limited on the amount of oxygen that it can get through the contact lens, the eye will begin to form small, fragile blood vessels. These blood vessels form to bring more oxygenated blood to the eye. Corneal neovasculation can be dangerous as it grows into on the eye. Should the vessel become large enough to extend into the pupil of the eye, vision can be permanently lost.
Another real problem with wearing contact lenses all the time is the heightened risk of corneal abrasion (scratch to the front of the eye), or even worse a corneal ulcer. These conditions are extremely painful, and cause light sensitivity and excessive tearing. If not quickly addressed by a medical ophthalmologist the abrasions/ulcers can become infected and/or cause permanent damage to the front of the eye. Some damage to the cornea can result in partial vision loss.
Is it ever OK to wear contacts for long periods of time?
Yes, there are contact lenses that are FDA approved for extended wear, and yes, they are deemed safe to sleep in, however that does not mean that your eyes don’t need a break. Depending on the contact lenses that are prescribed by an ophthalmologist, it is recommended that non-extended wear contacts be removed and cleaned daily and are not to be slept in unless advised otherwise by a medical ophthalmologist.
In the case of extended wear contacts, they should be removed and cleaned at least once a week, twice is more highly recommended. It is also important that once extended wear contacts have been removed to allow the eyes to rest for a period of at least 24 hours.
If you are a contact lens wearer, daily wear or extended wear, it is possible to over wear your lenses. If your eyes ever become irritated or uncomfortable, always remove the lenses and clean them. If after cleaning the eye remains red once you have reinserted the contacts, again remove the lenses and call your ophthalmologist. Just because a commercial or magazine advertises that certain brands are safe to wear for long lengths of time doesn’t mean they should be. It is best to only follow the instructions give to you by your eye care professional. Failure to do so may result in infection, pain, damage and possibly the inability to wear lenses in the future.