How Bad Is It To Sleep In Contact Lenses?

Photo: Getty Images.
You can tell a lot about a person by how they treat their contacts: Some people are precise and immaculate about storing and cleaning their lenses, and other people have been wearing the same pair for the past year. But listen: No matter how lazy you're feeling, you should always take out and store your contact lenses before bed, because sleeping in them is very bad. Of course, sometimes things happen, and you end up sleeping in a strange place and don't have all your contact lens tools. So what do you do?
"The best answer is to try at all costs to get a case and contact lens solution," says Reecha Kampani, OD, an optometrist at Cleveland Clinic.
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Here's why that's way, way better than sleeping in your contacts (unless they're approved by the FDA for overnight use): Your cornea gets its oxygen from the from the air, and when you wear contacts there's an extra barrier, says Laura DiMeglio, OD, an instructor of ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins University. When you're going about your day it's usually no big deal, but when you're asleep, your eyelids are closed and it's even harder for your eyes to breathe. And if your eyes can't breathe, you can get small "breaks" on the surface of your cornea, which let bacteria get inside of your eye and potentially cause an infection, she says. "These infections can create ulcers that, if in the center of your vision, can result in vision loss, including blindness," Dr. DiMeglio says.
Say you're really in a bind and don't have solution or a case: Is water okay? "It is extremely unsafe to store or rinse your contact lenses with water," Dr. Kampani says. "Even water that is safe to drink is not sterile and contains tiny microorganisms that can penetrate into your contact lens and attack the surface of your eye, potentially causing infection," she says. What about your spit — it's lubricating, right? Don't do that, Dr. DiMeglio says. "Your spit is the host of many different bacteria that can create an infection in the eye," she says. "Really, you never know what bacteria are hiding in the teeth or saliva that can wreak havoc on your ocular surface." In other words, there are no substitutes for sterile solution, Dr. Kampani says.
Annoying as it is, if you wear contact lenses, you should just always have a travel contact lens solution and case, some extra contacts, or a pair of glasses. "I often recommend patients to consider daily disposable lenses — even for just travel purposes — as you do not have to worry about carrying solutions and cases," Dr. Kampani says. "I always have a couple extra pairs of my daily lenses in my purse in case of emergency." If you can find solution, but don't have a case, sterile cups with lids work, she says. The best type of case is the kind that uses hydrogen peroxide with a neutralizing agent, because they eliminate bacteria that can attach to your lenses throughout the day, Dr. Kampani says.
Laser eye surgery is looking pretty appealing right about now, huh?
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