Scare Contact-Lens Sleepers into Compliance

It’s Healthy Vision Month: So, what better time to talk about contact lenses — and some of the basic steps to ensure proper and safe use. We’re certain that optometrists have encountered non-compliant patients who’ve failed to listen to advice … there’s always one or two. In this article, we’re going to focus on one of the most preventable problems out there: Patients who sleep in their contact lenses.

Let’s start with the simplest piece of advice one needs to emphasize about this issue: Don’t sleep while wearing contact lenses! Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get into the specifics of “why” this is so critical. So, let’s break things down…

One problem that wearing contact lenses overnight causes is dryness; while sleeping, contacts lose access to the oxygen and moisture that are essential to comfortable wear. What’s more, sleeping eyes don’t blink — and it’s blinking that helps keep eyes healthy and moist. This also results in drier eyes overnight. But these are only the beginning of the uncomfortable symptoms and consequences of overnight wear.

At the milder end of the scale, repeatedly sleeping with contact lenses can result in dryness, red and itchy eyes, and corneal ulcers. On to the more serious issues: Wearing contact lenses repeatedly at night can cause keratitis, and an inflamed cornea can cause all sorts of remarkable discomfort. There’s also conjunctivitis, and a whole bunch of other bacterial and viral infections, that can become severe enough as to be nearly chronic.There’s also the horror stories about people having multiple contact lenses jammed in their orbital cavity, and having to undergo surgery.

Certainly, this is rare, but it does happen. One good example comes from 2017 when a British woman was undergoing cataract surgery. Upon initial examination the surgeons discovered a “blueish mass” in her eyes, which turned out to be the grand total of 27 different contact lenses. The patient had been completely unaware of their presence and believed the resulting dry eye and discomfort was caused by her being 67-years-old.

In this astonishing case, there was a happy ending and the patient was fine — but also very, very lucky. So next time you get frustrated with a patient not following the contact lens rules, consider telling them about the 27 contact lens lady. If that doesn’t work … well, tell them it’s time for refractive surgery…

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