Why Are You Still Sleeping In Your Contact Lenses?

October 21, 2019

Many contact lens wearers have a dirty little secret: they sometimes sleep or nap with their lenses on. But – as Live Science has reported many times before – this bad habit can raise their risk of serious eye infections and even lead to vision loss.

Now, emergency room doctors are tackling the problem with a new review published today (Dec. 19) in the journal Annals of Emergency Medicine.

“Falling asleep, or even napping, without removing your contact lenses greatly increases the likelihood of serious health problems,” said Dr. Jon Femlin, assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and lead author of the new commentary, in a statement.” Proper eye care is a must if you want to avoid infections and trips to the emergency department.”

The commentary refers to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that highlights the risks of sleeping with contact lenses.The CDC report, released in August, describes six cases of serious eye infections after sleeping with the lenses on.

The six patients in the report developed a condition called microbial keratitis, an infection of the transparent outer covering (cornea) of the eye caused by bacteria, fungi, amoebas or viruses.

Most of these patients “required several months of treatment” to resolve the infection, and some required corneal transplants, the commentary said. These infections can be difficult to treat and often require patients to apply antibiotic eye drops every hour for weeks or months.

In one of the cases described in the CDC report, a 34-year-old man reported sleeping with his contact lenses on at least three to four nights a week, as well as swimming with his lenses on. He developed swelling and blurred vision in his left eye and was treated for two months for bacterial and fungal eye infections. But his symptoms did not improve. It wasn’t until later that doctors discovered he had a rare eye infection, a single-celled amoeba called Acanthamoeba keratitis. According to the CDC, this amoeba is commonly found in nature, including in bodies of water. Comments say that this infection requires a special medication to treat it and that doctors should suspect Acanthamoeba infection in patients with eye infections that don’t respond to initial treatment.

Once the man received the proper medication, his infection eventually cleared up, but it took six months, and he was left with some vision loss, the CDC reports.

In another case, a 59-year-old man wore contact lenses overnight on a hunting trip, but soon developed eye pain. He was treated with antibiotic drops, which he had to apply every 2 hours. But one day while in the shower, he heard a popping sound in his left eye and was diagnosed with a corneal ulcer. He required a corneal transplant and broad-spectrum antibiotics, and experienced some vision loss.

The CDC also reported the case of a 57-year-old man who wore the same contact lens for two weeks and was diagnosed with a corneal infection that required a corneal transplant and broad-spectrum antibiotics, and some vision loss. He was diagnosed with a bilateral eye infection and a hole in his right cornea. The CDC report said he needed hourly antibiotic eye drops and a corneal transplant to save his right eye.

The commentary said that, in addition to ocular trauma, the main risk factor for microbial keratitis is improper contact lens use.” As the cases demonstrate, prolonged use outside of the recommended guidelines, wearing contact lenses while sleeping, and inadequate hygiene and disinfection all contribute to the risk of infection.”

To prevent eye infections, the CDC recommends the following.

Wash your hands before touching contact lenses.
Remove contact lenses before sleeping, bathing or swimming.
Wipe and rinse contact lenses with an antiseptic solution each time you remove them.
Replace the old contact lens solution with a new disinfectant solution each time you store your contact lenses in the box.
Clean the contact lens case after each use.
Replace your contact lens case at least every three months.