After a long day at work, you get home, play with your kids, have dinner…and accidentally fall asleep in your contact lenses again. Hey, it happens, but the truth is, it’s not great for your eye health. “I know it may be tempting to sleep in your contacts out of convenience, but it’s a bad habit that can be a breeding ground for trouble,” says Dr. Amanda Rights, O.D., Transitions Brand Ambassador. “Unless your lenses are designed for extended wear and you’re given approval by your eye doctor, you should avoid sleeping in contacts. When you close your eyes while wearing contact lenses, the cornea (the front surface of your eye) is restricted from receiving oxygen it needs — essentially, suffocating — and becomes vulnerable to infection.”
To learn just how bad sleeping in your contacts is for you, Rights answers all your questions on just that.
How can sleeping in your contacts regularly cause damage?
“Over time, your eye can become susceptible to different infections from viruses, bacteria, amoebae or fungi,” Rights says. “Commonly, conjunctivitis (“pink eye”) and keratitis (painful inflammation of your cornea) can happen from sleeping in your contacts.” Also, by wearing contact lenses for an extended period of time without removing them, your cornea can swell, which can change your prescription and cause blurred vision. It’s best to take a few minutes every night to properly remove and clean your contacts to avoid these potential eye health and vision issues.
Is it okay to take a quick nap in your contacts?
While it’s less risky than sleeping a full night with lenses on, it’s still not a good idea to catch a few Z’s while wearing your contacts, Rights cautions. Again, the result is the same: Sleeping in contacts prevents your cornea from receiving the oxygen it needs.
What are other things you should avoid doing while wearing your contacts?
“Swimming, using a hot tub, or showering while wearing contacts is not advised, as there are some nasty microbes (such as Acanthamoeba) that live in water and are known to cause serious, vision-threatening eye infections,” Rights says. “When exposed to water, soft contact lenses change shape, swell, and stick to the eye. This can scratch the cornea, making it easier for microbes to enter the eye and cause an infection.” It’s best to avoid wearing contacts until you’re done swimming and instead, opt for a pair of well-fitting prescription swimming goggles.
If you really must wear contact lenses while doing water-based activities, take them out as soon as possible to reduce your risk of developing an eye infection. Ask your eye doctor about daily disposables so you can simply throw out the lenses afterwards.
Should you limit the amount of time you wear your contact lenses every day?
“All things are best in moderation, and contact lens wear is no exception,” Rights says. “In general, most people can comfortably wear their contact lenses for an average of 12 to 14 hours per day. You want to give your eyes a break to breathe, so make it a habit to remove your contacts as soon as you get home — aim for an hour or two of contact-free time before bedtime.”
What is the best way to care for your lenses to keep your eyes healthy?
If you are someone who wears reusable contacts, you need to clean them every night before bed and let the lenses soak in fresh contact lens solution overnight, advises Rights. To help remove protein deposits and debris, rinse and rub your lenses with the solution before storing them in the case.
Always use a contact lens cleaning solution — never water or saliva — to clean your lenses. “Multipurpose solutions are an all-in-one care system used to clean, rinse, disinfect, and store contact lenses,” Rights says. “Other lens cleaning products include hydrogen peroxide-based systems, which requires special care for safe use. Only use fresh contact lens solution in your case; never top off solution by mixing fresh solution with old or used solution.”
The next morning, after removing your contacts from the case, toss any remaining solution and dry your case to prevent a microscopic layer of germs from building up. The best way to do this is by rubbing and rinsing the case with fresh solution, wiping dry with a tissue, and then allowing it to air dry face down with the caps off. However, even with proper cleaning, your contact lens case should be replaced often. Ideally, cases should be replaced at least every three months, or when you purchase a new bottle of solution — whichever comes sooner.
Should I still have a pair of glasses even if I always wear contacts?
“It is critical for all contact lens wearers to have an updated pair of eyeglasses in addition to their contact lenses,” Rights says. “All too often, people come into my office having worn the same contact lenses for far too long because they were on their last pair or didn’t have access to any other form of vision correction. Make sure you have a pair of glasses for those times when you’re letting your eyes breathe before bed, when you’re sick or experiencing an eye infection, and when you’re out of contact lenses and waiting for your next box to arrive. Don’t risk potential infection, corneal damage, or vision loss by over wearing your contact lenses; your glasses could be your savior in a time of need. I encourage my patients to opt for fashionable eyeglasses they’ll want to wear, so they are excited to switch between their glasses and contacts.”
What are other common mistakes people make when it comes to contact lenses?
“In addition to improper wear and cleaning, one of the more common mistakes people make when it comes to contact lenses is not following the proper replacement schedule,” Rights says. “Follow your eye doctor’s guidelines: Don’t stretch the length of time you wear your contacts before throwing them away, and be cognizant of their expiration date. For instance, two-week lenses are only safe for daily wear for up to two weeks, and your boxes are only valid for a limited time. Don’t push it because you could be putting your eye health and safety at risk.”
Avoid touching your contacts or eyes with unclean hands. Your hands are constantly touching things – your keys, door knobs, and keyboards — that we don’t think of as harboring germs but are in fact a bacterial breeding ground. Always wash your hands with soap and water, and dry them well with a clean cloth before touching your contact lenses or eyes.
Additionally, avoid rubbing your eyes while wearing contact lenses. If you must rub, do it as gently as possible, because rough rubbing can lead to damage to the cornea. If you wear contacts and regularly suffer from dry eyes or allergies, this could be a sign to switch to wearing your glasses full-time until your symptoms improve.
All contact lenses, regardless of whether they correct your vision or not, require a prescription. This includes cosmetic contact lenses — such as decorative, colored, Halloween, etc. — which are still medical devices regulated by the FDA and require proof of your eye doctor’s prescription to purchase. Otherwise, the lenses being sold to you may not be safe or legal. Wearing any kind of contact lens, without a doctor’s evaluation and approval, can cause serious damage to your eyes if the lenses don’t fit properly, aren’t used correctly, or haven’t been cleared by the FDA.
“Finally, it is important to have an annual eye exam, even if you don’t feel like your vision has changed,” Rights says. “Your eye and its health can change over time so in turn, your contact prescription should be evaluated and assessed regularly to ensure the lenses are meeting your eye health and vision needs.”