Why You Should Never Sleep in Your Contact Lenses
Written By: Jennifer Churchill
Sep. 28, 2018
Sleeping in contact lenses increases your risk for nasty eye infections six- to eightfold. It’s one of the most common and risky things teen and adult contact lens wearers do. It doesn’t matter if you wear extended-wear lenses or if you fall asleep in them accidentally, or only occasionally.
Don’t believe the statistics? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a report detailing horrific stories of teens and adults who slept in their contacts and badly damaged their vision.
- A 57-year-old man wore the same contact lenses for two weeks. He slept in them regularly, failed to disinfect them daily, and ended up in the emergency room. He was in pain and he couldn’t see well. He had developed an infection in both eyes. One eye responded to treatment, but he needed surgery to restore vision in his right eye.
- A 59-year-old man who slept in his lenses during a two-day hunting trip developed a corneal abrasion. He thought he was on his way to recovery until he wiped his eyes with a towel after getting out of the shower. He heard a popping sound and then his eye began to hurt. He developed a large perforated corneal ulcer, an open sore on the cornea. He underwent urgent surgery to save his eye.
- A 34-year-old man who slept in his contact lenses several nights a week and swam in them developed a rare and difficult to treat infection called acanthamoeba keratitis. He required several months of a topical antiviral and antibacterial treatment to restore his vision.
- A 17-year-old girl slept in contact lenses she’d purchased at a store without a prescription. She developed a corneal ulcer in one eye. While treatment improved her vision, a scar on her cornea remains.
When worn and cared for properly, contact lenses provide safe and effective vision correction for the estimated 45 million Americans who wear them. But thousands of people develop infections every year because they fail to wear and care for their contact lenses as directed.
Thomas Steinemann, MD, who co-authored the CDC report, believes the popularity of contact lenses contributes to a casual attitude many people have about a medical device they use every day.
"The average person doesn't seem to realize the risk that they're taking by not treating their contact lenses with prescribed care," he said. "Patients can sometimes be a little blasé about how they manage their contacts. But they are a medical device inserted into your eye, and you need to listen to your doctor."
A 2015 survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 99 percent of contact lens wearers admitted to at least one bad contact-lens hygiene habit, including:
- swimming or bathing with contacts inserted,
- cleaning their contacts with tap water,
- not properly washing hands before handling contacts,
- and reusing cleaning solution.
One in three users have admitted to sleeping in their contact lenses.
"Just don’t do it," said Dr. Steinemann. "That’s what I stress to my patients. Don't sleep in your contact lenses. Don't even take a nap. Take care of your eyes and take caring for your contact lenses seriously."