You probably wear your contacts longer than your eye doctor told you to, and you’ve got this nagging worry that you will go blind. According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), more than 30 million people in the United States wear contact lenses, and most of them are women. Moms are busy people and don’t always have time to remove and care for their contact lenses properly.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved overnight wear of certain brands of contacts in the early 1980s, according to Nancy Del Pizzo and Liz Segre on the All About Vision website. Most patients were wearing them for up to two weeks, while others were approved for a month of constant wear. Unfortunately, sleep and extended-wear habits do not work so well together. Reports of eye infections had optometrists advising their patients to never wear their contacts overnight.
Del Pizzo and Segre explain that most contacts are daily or extended wear. Daily wear means just that: You don’t keep them in overnight. Extended-wear lenses, however, can be worn overnight, and most brands for as long as a week. A newer category– continuous wear–has also emerged. You can wear lenses made of silicone hydrogel, referred to as “super-permeable,” for as long as a month without taking them out; the same is true for some brands of gas-permeable lenses.
The problems with extended-wear lenses in the past had more to do with reuse of the contacts than keeping them in overnight. They weren’t disposable; they were simply removed and cleaned between wearing sessions, Del Pizzo and Segre point out. That practice allowed bacteria and germs to build up, causing conditions ranging from conjunctivitis (“pink eye”) to blindness. Today, most contacts are disposable, don’t require soaking or rinsing and are made from thinner materials, letting your eyes breathe more and stay healthier.
The University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center in Ann Arbor cautions, however, that lenses labeled for daily wear shouldn’t be worn overnight or for days at a time. Doing so could be harmful to the cornea. The center also says that overnight wear of lenses does boost your risk of corneal infection, but you can decrease your risk if you clean and care for your lenses as directed. One possible effect of wearing your lenses for too long is particularly ironic: You can develop an intolerance to your contacts, meaning you won’t be able to wear them at all.
Even if you wear and dispose of your contacts as directed by your eye doctor, problems can still occur, caution Del Pizzo and Segre. If you swim with your contacts in, or if your eyes are exposed to cigarette or barbecue smoke, you may have a higher risk for complications when using extended-wear lenses. The same is true if you have a history of eye problems, such as infections. Be aware of how your eyes look and feel each day. Call your eye doctor at the first sign of trouble.