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What happens to my eyes when I leave contacts in too long?

If you are new to wearing contacts or a long-time wearer, you may be wondering what can happen if you leave your lenses in too long.

While the cost of contacts, an expired prescription, or other reasons may tempt you to push your contacts as long as possible, pushing your lenses past the recommended time can increase your risk of eye conditions and complications that can negatively impact your eye health.

Recommended Wear Times for Different Contact Lenses

The FDA-approved length for wear time of common contactPutting in A Contact Lens  | Dittman Eyecare

lenses include:

  • Extended wear contacts can be worn continuously. This means they can be worn overnight for anywhere from one to four weeks, depending on what is recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Daily wear contact can be worn daily but should be removed prior to sleeping. While they are not in use, they need to be stored in a case with saline solution. Depending on the manufacturer, these lenses should be replaced anywhere from every two weeks to every other month.
  • Daily disposable lenses should be worn daily and discarded at night. You will then apply a new pair the next day.
The manufacturer’s recommendations and what your eye doctor recommends will help you determine what “too long” will mean for your contact lenses.

Eye Conditions Caused by Wearing Contact Too Long

If you wear your lenses beyond what was recommended by your eye doctor or manufacturer, you are putting yourself at risk for a variety of eye conditions and complications that can have a major impact on your eye health, including:
  • Corneal abrasions- These occur when you accumulate debris and dirt under your contact lenses, causing scratches to your cornea.
  • Chronic inflammation- This is one of the most common issues that can occur when overwearing your contact lenses. With ongoing inflammation, it can lead to lens intolerance, and you will no longer be able to wear contacts.
  • Corneal ulcers- These are painful open sores or white spots on the cornea. In addition to discomfort, they can also cause light sensitivity. If you have a corneal ulcer, you will need to stop wearing contact lenses and treat your ulcer with antibiotic eye drops. You can resume wearing contacts once it has healed.
Other issues include corneal hypoxia. This occurs when the amount of oxygen that is available to the cornea is reduced. Typically you will experience burning, a scratchy feeling, blurred vision, and excessive tearing. All these symptoms are temporary, but more severe cases can lead to the death of epithelial cells. This can cause permanent changes in your vision.

Wearing contacts too long can also result in corneal stem cell damage. While your cornea can rapidly replace aged or injured epithelial cells, wearing contacts over their recommended time can lead to damaging the stem cells that help to renew your epithelial cells and keep your cornea transparent. This increases your risk of opaqueness in your cornea as well as your risk of infection, vision loss, and other eye-health complications.

Questions about Contact Lenses? Contact Dittman Eyecare! 

At Dittman Eyecare, we can help you find the right contacts for your lifestyle and your vision needs. We will work with you to ensure you understand how long the contacts can be safely worn. For a contact lens exam or to learn more about contact lens safety, contact us today!
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