Overwearing and sleeping in contacts is typical of many contact lens wearers, however; it can result in scarring, corneal complications, and even blindness. Although lenses have improved significantly in quality and technology, it still should be thought of as a piece of plastic that reduces oxygen flow to your corneas. Closed eyes during sleeping coupled with a contact lens sitting on the cornea can cause many problems overnight. If pain or redness occurs after sleeping in contacts, lenses should be immediately removed and not worn again until consultation with an eye doctor.
Corneal Complications from Contact Lenses
1. Corneal Ulcers
Corneal ulcers are the most common complication after sleeping in lenses. They are incredibly painful, red and light-sensitive. Upon inspection in the mirror, a fluffy white area may be present. If present in the central cornea, vision can be effected permanently. The ulcer will leave a scar. Quick treatment can possibly reduce the size of the scar and/or result in better healing.
2. Corneal Neovascularization
Corneal neovascularization is the development of blood vessels on the cornea due to insufficent oxygen. Oxygen was reduced over a period of time due to sleeping in lenses or wearing lenses longer than recommended. Due to reduced oxygen the cornea desperately needs, it creates its own unhealthy, new blood vessels. Neovascularization can cause long-term effects on the cornea and the eye.
3. Corneal Scarring
Scarring can be the result of both corneal ulcers and infiltrates. Both result from bacteria growth due to lack of oxygen to the eye. Scarring can result in permanent blurred vision, light sensitivity, halos/glare and blindness. Corneal scarring can not be reversed.
Other Complications from Overnight Contact Lenses
1. Limbal Stem Cell Deficiency
Limbal stem cells are the new cells made by the eye to move over the cornea. Stem cells start on the outside area of the cornea and move toward the middle. The edge of contact lenses sit on the cornea where cells are produced. The cornea is no longer able to repair and renew itself if damaged leading to long-term eye discomfort.
2. Contact Lens Intolerance
Long-term over-use and over-wear of contacts can make the eye unable to tolerate any type of contacts. Over time, the eye becomes more sensitive and can tolerate less than it was previously able to tolerate. Even the best lenses on the market feel uncomfortable after several hours.
3. Dry Eyes
Sleeping in lenses can lead to dry eye. Upon waking, the eye feels dry and as if the lens is adhered to the cornea. Often, one is unable to wear contacts throughout the day after sleeping in contact lenses long-term. I often tell my patients everything gets drier over time. When you are a teenager everything is oily. Your hair is oily, your skin is oily, but over time, things become more dry. Same thing occurs with your eyes over time. Proper removal at night is important to ensure one can safely and comfortably wear contact lenses for their entire lives.
4. Inability to have corrective surgeries like Lasik
Long-term abuse such as sleeping in contact lenses or overwearing lenses may result in corneal distortion and molding. Refractive surgeries such as Lasik cannot be performed on corneas that show molding or signs of thickening and/or thinning. Lasik on corneas with warpage can cause long-term eye pathologies such as Ectasia and Keratoconus. Surgeons will not perform on corneas that may result in future problems.