Although there are some contact lenses that can be worn at night, in most cases, sleeping with contacts isn’t ideal. If you end up falling asleep wearing contacts that are designed for daily wear, it could result in a host of eye problems including infections, corneal ulcers, and even certain conditions that could lead to permanent vision loss.
When you wear contact lenses, they reduce the oxygen supply to the cornea or the front surface of the eye. Normally, the cornea gets its oxygen through blood vessels in the eyelid during the night and from the air during the day. Regular contact wearers need that nighttime reset to keep their eyes healthy, the lack of nighttime oxygen can be very damaging.
Contacts Restrict Oxygen to Your Eyes
As we mentioned above, your eyes receive oxygen from the air when they are open. This is essential for your eyes to function properly. As soon as you put your contacts in, you are putting a shield in front of your cornea that reduces how much oxygen it receives. On top of that, when you close your eyes with contact lenses in, the oxygen supply gets even lower. As a result, your eyes can become prone to more irritation and can develop redness and inflammation that snowballs into impaired vision.
There’s also a chance that sleeping with contacts could lead to bacterial or fungal infections in addition to corneal ulcers. Some patients need special treatments such as refractive lens eye surgery, leading them to seek alternatives for contact lenses.
How Does Sleeping in Contacts Raise Your Risk of an Eye Infection?
You might not think much of sleeping overnight or napping with contacts in, but you should be aware of the potential complications. Your corneas interact with bacteria daily yet, infections don't often occur. This is due to the fact that a healthy cornea plays a role in your eye’s natural defense mechanism against incoming contaminants. In order to function properly, your corneas need oxygen and hydration.
While you are awake, you blink to keep your eyes moist, allowing oxygen to come in through the natural tears that you produce. By covering the surface of your eyes, with contacts, they reduce how much moisture and oxygen your eyes can receive. Sleeping maximizes these effects, causing your corneal cells to lose their ability to fight bacteria.
What Happens If You Sleep with Contacts in?
It’s possible to develop an eye infection from sleeping in contacts, and you may also experience many of the following:
Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)
According to the American Optometric Association, conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is one of the most common side effects of sleeping with your contacts. This is the result of inflammation in the conjunctiva that covers the whites of your eye and the lining inside of your eyelids. Conjunctivitis can also be caused by a viral infection and may result in cosmetic abnormalities such as discolored eyes that are oozing. It can also be itchy and uncomfortable.
One step further is giant papillary conjunctivitis (GPC), a particular form of pink eye that results in bumps along the inner surface of the eyelid. Those who wear contacts are most commonly impacted by this disease, it makes the eyes very sensitive to light.
Falling asleep with contacts could also result in keratitis. This inflammation is similar to conjunctivitis as it impacts the cornea but it also causes damage to your vision. According to the Center for Contact Lens Research (CCLR), sleeping in contacts is linked to a 10x greater risk of developing microbial keratitis.
Keratitis is sometimes caused by infections of amoebae, fungi, and bacteria. Amoebic keratitis is the most extreme of the three and can cause loss of vision. Keratitis can also cause corneal ulcers to develop, leading to the potential for permanent blindness if not treated properly.
- Bacterial Keratitis
This is a corneal infection that stems from either staphylococcus aureus or pseudomonas aeruginosa; both are bacteria that are found on the human body and occur naturally in the environment. If you have extended-wear contact lenses, you’re more likely to develop bacterial keratitis. Other risk factors include eye injury or compromised immune systems. The National Eye Institute notes that infectious keratitis can be treated through the use of eye drops. In extreme cases, treatment requires steroid eye drops. If you don’t treat bacterial keratitis promptly, it could result in your cornea being permanently scarred.
- Acanthamoeba Keratitis
This is inflammation of the cornea that stems from an infection caused by an amoeba. It can lead to vision loss or blindness, this infection is caused by a single-celled organism that is found naturally in bodies of water, tap water, soil, HVAC systems, and hot tubs.
- Fungal keratitis
This is common in regions that have mild temperatures and tropical weather. Sleeping with contacts can increase your chances of developing fungal keratitis, however, most people develop it as the result of eye trauma that includes branches, sticks, or plants. If left untreated, this may result in permanent damage including blindness.
Sleeping in contact lenses can also lead to corneal neovascularization. Even if you do your best to avoid developing an eye infection, the deprivation of oxygen that occurs when you wear contacts while you sleep causes the eye to grow more blood vessels. This occurs when your body is trying to naturally increase the volume of blood supply to the cornea. Corneal neovascularization impacts your vision due to the blood vessels inhibiting light from normally traveling through your cornea.
Those who sleep in contact lenses are also at an increased risk of developing an eye ulcer. One study indicates that corneal ulcers are one of the main causes of blindness in the world. Corneal ulcers are small, open wounds on the eye. As soon as a contact lens sits over your cornea, it begins to starve it of oxygen. This scenario is the ideal environment for bacteria to spread and break down the epithelium, resulting in an ulcer.
If you wear your contacts while you sleep, or for a long period of time, it can result in significant eye irritation. You may notice bumps forming underneath your eyelids. Giant papillary conjunctivitis (GPC) results when the inside of your eyelid becomes irritated, red, and swollen. Those who wear contacts while they sleep are at the greatest risk of developing GPC. These bumps can cause your contacts to fit poorly and lead to other frustrating issues. If possible, avoid wearing your contacts for a week to see if your symptoms begin to improve.
Signs of an Eye Infection
How can you tell if you’re developing an eye infection? If you are experiencing redness, watering eyes, discharge, or a decreased quality of vision, it could be a sign that you are developing an infection. If you stop wearing your contacts for an extended period of time and you still aren’t seeing any improvements, it’s time to schedule an appointment with your eye doctor. Before you throw out your contacts, put them into a case and bring them with you to your appointment. Your doctor will be able to culture the lens to get a better understanding of how to treat the issue you're experiencing
Tips to Reduce the Risk of Eye Infections Related with Contacts
Falling asleep with contacts isn’t ideal, but it’s possible to reduce the risk of eye infections if you’re aware of these preventative measures. If you wear contacts, keep these tips in mind:
- If possible, avoid going to sleep in your contact lenses.
- If you’re wearing disposable contacts, don’t reuse them.
- Always take your contacts out before you swim.
- Don’t rub or touch your eyes if your hands are dirty.
- Replace disposable contact lenses often.
- Never share contacts with anyone else.
- Don’t buy fashion contact lenses.
- Use clean, sanitized hands when you’re putting in or taking out your contacts.
Even though contacts are beneficial, they can cause many problems if they’re not cared for or worn properly. Do your best to follow the above guidelines.
The Bottom Line
It’s possible to develop an eye infection from sleeping with contacts, but it’s easy to reduce your risk of infection by being diligent in your routine. If possible, always make sure that you remove your contact lenses before you go to bed. Getting eye exams in Chicago on a regular basis is another way to stay on top of your eye health. Get in touch with our team at the Kraff Eye Institute to learn more about how we can help!