Real talk: if you’re a regular contact wearer, chances are you are in sleep have fallen in your contacts at a particular point in time (or maybe even a few times). We all know that it’s not recommended by the eye doctors, but why exactly? What is actually happening in your eyes if you sleep with your contacts in?
To find out, we had to get a little bit familiar with how the daily contact with the wear actually affect your body. If a foreign object or substance that you introduce to your body, whether it is food or a drug, contacts take time to get used to. “The FDA, in fact, describes the contacts as a drug,” says Russell Wohl, OD, of Farmingdale, New York. “No, you’re not taking a contact, it is just sitting on your eyes, but your body is used to it.” Contacts can sometimes burn or cause dryness in the eye, also. Each individual tears are made of a certain pH, acidity, explains Wohl, and when you create a contact in your eye, the contact, the solution is not the actual lens actually has a different pH, so that your eye can tears to help wash the solution off. And if you have dry eyes to begin with, the lenses can only worsen. “When we blink, we wipe the tears over the cornea to help to make things uniform and clear, because when the cornea is exposed to air, it can become irritating,” explains Wohl. “Contacts need moisture once they are removed from the solution they come packaged in, and if you already do not have enough tears or suffering from dry eyes, lenses maybe only that it’s worse.”
When we sleep, we lose ambient oxygen exposure to the cornea, which is needed to keep the cornea healthy. We are still able to in other ways—such as through the blood vessels but we get less than we do when we’re awake. “What a contact lens does is to reduce the oxygen even more, because it provides a barrier between the oxygen and the cornea,” explains Wohl. “Some lenses—long term use—lets the oxygen through,” says Wohl, but if there is not enough oxygen gets through, you can enjoy what is called hypoxia (lack of oxygen in a part of the body).
You also increase your chances of developing an infection, because the bacteria can get on the cornea and when your eyes are closed, there is nothing to flush it away. “The bacteria can then be opportunistic and literally start to eat away at your cornea,” says Wohl. “Worst-case scenario is a loss of vision.” Yikes!
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If you fall asleep accidentally with your lenses in, for one night, you’re not likely to experience any serious problems. But if it is a more frequent habit, or if you deliberately exclude the lenses and overnight that does not mean to be, you are upping your chance at a serious risk for the health. If you begin to notice that your eyes are very red (we have very bloodshot), you feel like something is in your eye and it’s irritated all the time, your eyelid is looking inflamed, you do not see as good as they used to, or if when you look for an indoor lamp it feels like you are looking directly at the sun, these are the signs that you might have an infection and you should have your eye doctor immediately. “The good news is that most of the time an acute episode that can usually be corrected by not wearing the contact lens and allow the body to heal itself,” says Wohl. “If it gets worse, can your doctor get you a prescription.”
So why have a chance? Make it a routine for your contact lenses every night before you go to sleep. “I’m more on the conservative side of things,” says Wohl, “so even with my resistant patients, if it’s not too much hassle, I suggest that everyone tries them every day. If you ask me, that is the healthiest option.”