“People don’t realize that contacts are medical devices,” says Patrick Vollmer, OD, of Vita Eye Clinic in Shelby, NC. “They don’t realize the risks associated with misuse.” He posted a series of gruesome photos of the infected eye with a lengthy caption on Facebook on April 28. That post has been shared more than 300,000 times.
In this case, the woman slept in her lenses and woke up on a Tuesday with eye irritation and went to urgent care for treatment. They diagnosed her with a small pseudomonas ulcer -- a sore on her cornea caused by bacteria -- and gave her antibiotics. She woke up the next day blind in that eye, with a much larger ulcer. That’s when she saw Vollmer. He says it might take 5 to 6 months for her to regain her eyesight, and some loss may be permanent.
Sleeping in contacts -- even those meant for extended wear -- raises your risk of infection 6 to 8 times, but nearly one-third of wearers admit to doing it sometimes. The potential for serious damage is so great that last year, the CDC released a report highlighting six recent cases. In one, a man slept in his contacts for 2 nights on a camping trip and wound up needing a corneal transplant. In another, a man who slept in his lenses 3 or 4 nights a week needed 8 months of treatment to recover his vision.
But dozing without removing your lenses isn’t the only way to raise your risk of infection. Other common causes include “topping off” the solution in your lens case (instead of emptying and cleaning it, then refilling), not replacing the case regularly, and showering or swimming with lenses. To cut your risk, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that you:
- Follow the lens care routine spelled out by your doctor -- don’t skip steps or skimp on supplies.
- Wash and dry your hands before touching your lenses.
- Remove your lenses before doing anything where water will touch your eyes.
- Never use saliva, tap water, or homemade saline solution on your lenses.
- Use the “rub and rinse” method to clean them: Rub your lenses with clean fingers, then rinse with solution before soaking them.
- Use new solution every time.
- After putting lenses into your eyes, rinse the case with solution and leave it to air dry.
- Replace the case every 3 months.
- Remove lenses right away if your eyes become very red, painful, watery, or sensitive to light, or if your vision becomes blurry.
Even if you regularly sleep in your lenses without problems, that doesn’t mean it’s safe, Vollmer says. “The odds of infection are much better than playing the lottery. I don’t know why you’d gamble with your eyesight.”