Serious problems like this are rare: estimates suggest keratitis occurs in two to 20 per 10,000 contact lens wearers. However, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are up to a million visits per year to emergency rooms and other outpatient healthcare providers for problems related to contact lens use.
If you wear contacts, take note
As these cases demonstrate, unless you use extended-wear contacts specifically approved for wearing overnight, you shouldn’t sleep in them. Even then, it’s safest to take them out before bed.
Other recommendations for safe contact use are:
If you notice problems, such as redness or pain in your eye or a change in vision, take your lenses out right away and let your eye doctor know.
If you have serious problems despite taking good care of your lenses, report it to the FDA MedWatch program. By tracking these reports, the FDA can issue alerts if necessary.
The bottom line
Fortunately, serious problems related to contact lens wear are quite rare, probably because the recommended care of lenses reliably prevents them. So, be conscientious about taking care of your contact lenses — this is one situation in which you really shouldn’t cut corners. And if keeping up with the recommended routine is truly too much of a bother, talk to your eye doctor about other options. Maybe you’ll decide that wearing glasses isn’t so bad after all.
(Robert H. Shmerling, M.D., is a senior faculty editor for Harvard Health Publishing.)