For those with severely impaired vision, contact lenses are an incredible vision correction option that is unrivaled in its convenience. They allow you to participate in high-impact activities, they don’t restrict vision, and they don’t break down like prescription glasses do. However, wearing contact lenses long-term carries a higher risk for developing serious eye conditions, and if you forgo proper contact lens care instructions, you may place yourself at further risk.
7 Serious Eye Conditions That Can Develop From Long-Term Contact Lens Use
1. Open Sores on Cornea (Corneal Ulcers). These open sores on the eye’s surface are caused by a bacterial infection. When bacteria builds up on the lenses, and these are inserted into the eyes, corneal ulcers can develop. Symptoms include pain, redness, tearing, light sensitivity, and blurred vision. If left untreated, corneal ulcers can lead to permanent vision loss. Here is an article that covers this risk in more detail. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4170392/
2. Corneal ulceration while swimming. There are some organisms, such as acanthamoeba and pseudomonas, that can infect corneas with a contact lens in place. The risk for corneal infections while swimming without contact lenses is greatly reduced. Here is a link from the CDC on this issue.
3. Dry Eye Syndrome. Long-term contact lens use can also lead to dry eye syndrome, a condition in which the eyes do not produce enough tears. Symptoms include eye redness, burning, itching, and pain. To avoid it, do not wear contact lenses 24/7 and use eye drops as needed.
4. Red Eyes. Also known as conjunctivitis, this is when the membrane that covers the eye (conjunctiva) becomes inflamed. Commonly associated with wearing contacts for too long, it results in red, sensitive eyes that are itchy, burn, or excessively tear. It can also be caused by oxygen deprivation, dry eyes, poorly fitted lenses, and lens deposits.
5. Corneal Abrasions. These are small scratches on the eye’s surface that can occur with improperly cleaned or disinfected lenses, or from wearing contact lenses for extended periods. Symptoms include pain, redness, tearing, and light sensitivity.
6. Corneal Inflammation – Keratitis. This inflammation in the cornea can be caused by bacteria exposure, allergens, and improper lens care. Symptoms include pain, redness, itchiness, light sensitivity, foreign-body sensations, and blurred vision.
7. Blood Vessel Overgrowth. Keeping lenses in for extended periods can restrict your eye’s oxygen supply (oxygen deprivation or hypoxia). As a result, your eyes may develop new blood vessels to get more oxygen (cornea neovascularization). If these extra blood vessels prevent light from passing through your cornea, it can lead to eye damage. Hypoxia symptoms include swelling, burning sensations, and blurry vision.
8. Permanent Vision Issues. If you’re using lower-cost, improperly-fitted, or unapproved contact lenses, this can lead to permanent vision issues. Symptoms include corneal scarring, excessive tearing, itchy/burning eyes, red eyes, blurry vision with contacts in, infections, and lens intolerance.
Improper Contact Lens Behaviors That You Should Avoid
As with many second nature habits, it can become easy to forgo the recommended maintenance practices after a long-day. Here are common behaviors to avoid when looking to reduce high-risk side effects.
- Not removing your contact lenses before sleeping.
- Not replacing daily-use contacts as prescribed.
- Skipping out on disinfecting your lenses or case.
- Not storing your lenses in disinfectant (don’t use water!).
- Using old, foggy, or expired lens solutions.
- Not replacing your lens solution daily.
- Wearing your contact lenses for extended hours, daily.
- Not allowing your eyes to “breathe” by wearing your contacts 24/7.
- Wearing expired lenses.
- Using well water for cleaning the lenses.
While the risks associated with long-term contact lens use are serious, they are also relatively rare. The best way to reduce your risk is to practice good hygiene and follow the recommended care instructions for your lenses. If you experience any symptoms, be sure to see your eye doctor right away.