Is it okay to sleep with my contact lenses?
Is it dangerous to sleep in your soft disposable contact lenses for one night if you can't get them out?
Whichever lenses you wear, there can be complications if they’re in prolonged “contact” with your eyes. There are overnight contact lenses that are designed to be slept in such as extended wear, or orthokeratology lenses. However, longer-term use of other types, such as the soft disposable lenses you mentioned, may lead to serious health complications.
Life happens, and every once in a while, you may forget to take your contacts out overnight. However, you might think twice about regularly skipping this step, knowing it could result in the following health issues:
- Infections. The likelihood of contracting an infection caused by bacteria, fungi, viruses, or parasites increases with prolonged use of contact lenses. When you’re asleep, your eyes don’t get sufficient oxygen, which causes the cells to go into a hypoxic—or oxygen-deprived—state. Low oxygen levels foster bacterial growth, which can ultimately lead to corneal damage and even vision loss.
- Inflammation. Overnight use of contact lenses can cause inflammation and overall eye irritation.
- Warpage. Also known as corneal warpage, prolonged contact lens use may lead to lens-induced irregular astigmatism, which can cause vision loss.
- Corneal neovascularization. This sight-threatening condition occurs when new blood vessels grow into the cornea, which is an area that typically doesn’t have blood vessels. If left untreated, it can cause tissue scarring, inflammation, and fluid build-up that can eventually cause vision loss.
If you experience any of these symptoms or conditions, consider scheduling an appointment with an eye care provider. They can provide further diagnostic tests and determine a treatment plan based on your symptoms. Additionally, if you have any doubt about how to care for your particular lenses, consider checking the manufacturer’s guidelines for each brand and type of lens. You can also speak with the eye care specialist who prescribed the contacts to you.
You mentioned that you’re having a difficult time getting the contacts out of your eyes. Read on for possible reasons as to why you may be experiencing these difficulties.
- Your contacts may be dried out. One of the most common reasons for a stuck soft contact lens is caused by a lack of moisture in your eye that causes the lens to dry and stick! Rinsing or rewetting the eye with contact solution should moisturize the contact lens enough to dislodge it.
- Your contact may have torn. Soft contact lenses may rip or tear as you attempt to remove them, and sometimes a piece may remain in your eye. Try rinsing your eye with contact solution and blinking repeatedly to dislodge the contact. If you believe the piece may still be in your eye, consider scheduling an appointment with an eye care provider as soon as possible.
- A hard lens is stuck. While soft contact lenses getting stuck is more common, it’s also possible for rigid gas-permeable (RGP) or “hard” lenses to get stuck. Avoid rubbing your eye if this occurs because the hard lens may scratch your cornea. Instead, try using your fingertips or a small suction cup to gently press the side of the lens to break the suction.
- Contact removal may be challenging. Whether it’s your first or hundredth try, removing a contact can be difficult. If you have a health condition that affects the mobility of your fingers—such as arthritis—which complicates regular contact removal, it may be worth looking into extended-wear lenses which are inserted and removed less often. There are also tools, like lens removers, that may help!
For more tips and tricks on contact removal, consider speaking with an eye care specialist about the difficulties you're facing. You can also check out the Go Ask Alice! response Contact lens lost in eye. Hopefully these suggestions have helped provide you with information and resources to help you keep an “eye” on this problem!
Originally published Aug 23, 2002
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