If you sleep in contact lenses that are not specifically indicated to be worn overnight, you probably received an earful from your optometrist warning you against sleeping in them. Sleeping with contact lens may cause all sorts of havoc on the health of your eyes, including eye scrapes, eye infections, and bacteria causing eye conditions. In medical speak, possible eye conditions you could develop by sleeping with contacts include corneal ulcer, conjunctivitis, and keratitis.
Sleeping with your contacts may cause an eye scrape or corneal scrape. If the corneal scrape becomes infected, it could lead to a corneal ulcer, reports the University of Maryland Medical Center. Watery eyes, light sensitivity, swollen eyelids, eye redness, and a white area on the eyelid are all signs of a corneal ulcer. If you develop a corneal ulcer, your optometrist or ophthalmologist will treat the condition with prescription eye drops that will kill the bacteria.
Conjunctivitis (Giant Papillary)
This eye condition can occur if you don’t replace your contacts with enough frequency, but can certainly develop if you regularly sleep with your contacts in over night. Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis is essentially an allergic reaction to the contact lens. Its symptoms include swollen eyelids, light sensitivity, discharge from the eye, eye redness, and a feeling of grittiness in the eye. If you have any of these symptoms, remove your contact lenses right away and contact your eye doctor, who may recommend changing your contact lens solution, changing your contact lens brand, or simply replacing your contacts more frequently.
A third condition that can develop when wearing contact lenses for an extended period of time, including sleeping with contacts, is keratitis. This condition occurs when a parasite grows directly on the contact lens, but then spreads to your cornea, says the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms are quite uncomfortable, and may include eye pain, swollen eyes, blurry vision, feeling like something is in your eye, and even difficulty opening your eye. The go-to treatment for keratitis is antibiotic eye drops. However, it is important to note that antibiotic eye drops aren’t always foolproof. In the drops do not work, a corneal transplant may be required.
Your cornea needs oxygen to maintain its health. When your eye is closed, it receives its oxygen from the tiny blood vessels on the underside of your eyelids. But when you’re asleep with your contacts in, the contact lens material may act as a barrier to the amount of oxygen that is able to permeate the cornea. The negative effects of sleeping with contacts is dependent on lens thickness, lens material, prescription type, and how long the eye is closed while sleep with contacts.
Keep in mind that some contacts have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for extended wear, including overnight. But just because the FDA has approved a contact for extended wear or for sleeping doesn’t guarantee that every person can do so without any repercussions to their eyes. Again, it depends on a number of factors, including the amount of oxygen making it through to the cornea, amount of deposits left on the lens, tear composition, and others. Most people don’t have problems when taking a nap with contacts.
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