My friend and occasional collaborator, Jessica Barnett asked me a question on Twitter the other day: "Random thought.. Do you have any blogs about the dangers of wearing contacts for too long/way too long?"
My first thought was, "Oh, man. She must be in big trouble." Most people don't think about the possible harm contacts can do until they have red, angry, painful eyes. It turns out that, no, she just has a lot of friends who push their contacts WAY past their limits. And she wanted some info to share with them.
First, let's clarify a bit of terminology. When patients do not follow the recommendations regarding their contact lenses, they usually refer to it as "wearing contacts for too long." Sometimes they say they just "over-wear" contacts. What doctors call it is "contact lens abuse." Because, like almost anything, contacts can be used properly to provide safe, clear, and comfortable vision, or they can be used in a way that causes unnecessary risk.
When people abuse their contacts proteins, oils, bacteria, and allergens build up on the surface of the lenses. These are then in constant contact (get it? 8)) with the sensitive lining of your eyeball and eyelids. If you do not take your contacts out, or you wear them longer than you are supposed to, you limit the ability of your eyes to clean and recover. This increases the likelihood of a problem that can range from something mildly annoying to something permanently blinding - like acanthamoeba.
So what is the worst that can happen? Check out this video to illustrate "the worst week of my life."
Or this quieter patient saying that it felt like " my eye was going to burst out of my face"
Most contact lens complications are certainly not this bad. Most commonly, people first develop dry, red eyes as a result of the eyes not getting enough oxygen, the lenses not fitting correctly, or as a reaction to components of the contact lens cleaning solution. You do not want to let these initial problems develop into an infection or a corneal ulcer as described in the videos above. As a general rule, if you experience any pain, redness, watery eyes, sensitivity to light, or the feeling that something is in your eye or stuck on the contact take out the contacts and schedule a visit with the eye doctor that prescribed your lenses.
Here are some things you can do to reduce the chances of problems with contacts:
- Throw away your contacts as recommended.
- Do not sleep in your contacts unless specifically allowed by your doctor.
- NEVER use tap water when cleaning lenses.
- Wash your hands before handling contacts.
- Ignore the "no rub" label. Clean your contacts as instructed.
- Never reuse contact lens solution.
- Keep your contact lens case clean and replace it regularly.
- Own an up-to-date pair of back-up glasses to give your eyes a break.
One last thought: People usually abuse their contacts to save money. They think they are being clever by using contact lenses extra times or reusing solution. But keep in mind that if you develop any of the problems above, you might not only risk never being able to wear contacts again, but it can be very expensive to treat. It is smarter (and cheaper) to prevent problems in the first place. If you do experience problems with your contacts, again, discontinue wearing them and call or contact us online to schedule an appointment to make sure you are not having any problems.
So from now on... if I even think you are abusing your contacts, I'm going to send Jessica over to have a nice long chat with you to set you straight! (And you don't want that!)
Nathan Bonilla-Warford, OD
Bright Eyes Family Vision Care
Located in the Westchase area of Tampa.