Photo Credit: Getty Images/Mark Harwood
It’s late, your fluffy pillows and crisp, cool sheets are beckoning, but the prospect of brushing the day’s scum from your teeth and taking out your contact lenses feels like a five-hour trek through the Sahara. How ever will you make it to bed with so much ground to cover? You do what any sleep-deprived person would do -- you skip the whole annoying hygiene routine and go straight to bed. What’s the worst that could happen? Scuzzy breath and gunky, red eyes in the morning? Nothing when compared to the bliss of instant sleep gratification.
But it turns out that wearing your contact lenses to bed is actually not a harmless idea -- especially if you do it often. (Same goes for not brushing your teeth, but that’s another story.)
According to a study in the Archives of Ophthalmology, contact lens wearers are nine times as likely to suffer ulcers of the cornea, the transparent dome that covers the front of the eye. Corneal ulcers are open sores, often caused by a scratch or other injury to the eye, which then becomes infected. Ulcers can also be caused by severely dry eyes or the overuse of contact lenses. If not treated immediately, corneal ulcers can cause permanent damage, including vision loss.
Corneal ulcers are on the rise, say the study’s researchers. In the 1950s, there were 2.5 cases for every 100,000 people in the U.S. Today, that figure has climbed to 23 per 100,000 Americans, or 10 times the amount. A lot of that, they believe, can be blamed on the overuse of contact lenses. According to researcher Dr. David Gritz of Montefiore Medical Center in New York, we all need a break from wearing contacts no matter what the product claims. Wearing lenses for weeks or a month without removing them is dangerous -- it exponentially increases your risk of infection. In Gritz’s study, which followed 1,093,210 patients, 50 percent of the corneal ulcer diagnoses went to contact lens wearers. Particularly at risk were people with HIV and young women, who contracted twice the amount of corneal ulcers as men in their age group.
In an effort to improve contact lens safety, The American Academy of Ophthalmology, the Contact Lens Association of Ophthalmologists, the Cornea Society and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery recently issued recommendations for lens wearers and manufacturers. Among them:
• Single-use daily disposable lenses are the safest type of soft contact lens.
• Wearing any lens overnight increases your chances of infection.
• Contacts should be cleaned by rubbing and rinsing thoroughly, even if you use a no-rub solution.
• Replace contact lens cases every three to six months.
I’ve been wearing contacts for almost 20 years, and while I’ve only occasionally worn them to bed, the rest of my lens hygiene has been less than flawless. (I’ve been known to use the same grimy case for years.) Perhaps that’s why I now can’t wear my contacts for more than five hours without my eyes turning an angry shade of red. Glasses are my go-to, and I reserve my contact lenses for special occasions. Even then, I wake up the next morning with glassy, goopy eyes. To me, it’s a reminder that contacts haven’t been around all that long, and that we still don’t know the long-term effects of wearing them day in and day out for decades. I’m not trying to incite panic here; I’m just reminding us all that when it comes to our eyes, it’s probably best to follow our doctors’ advice to a T -- even if that means losing an extra 10 minutes of sleep.
Do you wear your contacts to bed, or for weeks at a time? Chime in below.