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Not to Worry! Here’s What to Do if You Slept With Contacts In

pop-art illustration with old school clock and wake up text

Nearly one million people a year in the U.S. end up with a corneal condition called keratitis, and 58,000 find themselves in the ER.

How did they end up in this situation? Some may have slept with contacts in. Others might have forgotten to clean their lenses on time. One thing is certain: practicing poor contact lens hygiene can lead to loads of different issues.

Wearing your contacts to bed on a regular basis isn't just bad practice. It's also dangerous to your eyesight. Contacts can get dirty and harm your eyes no matter how careful you are.

Leaving them in for a nap or bedtime on a regular basis can disrupt the natural balance of your cornea. Bacteria can multiply and bind to your cornea easily. In turn, they can cause an inflammation of the eyes known as keratitis.

It may be that you've never slept with your contacts in. Or you're a frequent offender and you always forget to take them out at night. In any case, you should know what to do after a night of sleeping with lenses in your eyes.

Continue reading to find out what happens to you when you leave your contacts in overnight. And learn what to do to keep your eyes happy and healthy.

What Happens When You Sleep With Contacts In?

Does your optometrist always stress the importance of taking out your contacts at night? He or she’s not just saying this to nag. Sleeping with your lenses in results in less oxygen reaching your eyes. This can lead to dryness and infection.

There are two main complications that can develop: keratitis and corneal neovascularization. Keratitis is an inflammation of the eyes caused by bacteria and overwearing contacts. Neovascularization happens when your eyes get deprived of oxygen for a long period of time.

woman who has slept with contacts in

Corneal neovascularization occurs when little blood vessels grow in your cornea to help make up for the lack of oxygen. These new blood vessels are invasive, and can lead to inflammation and scarring. They disrupt your eyesight by threatening the transparency of the cornea.

Of course, corneal neovascularization doesn't happen overnight. Here are some symptoms you might notice after a night of sleeping with your contacts in:

You can risk damage to your cornea even after sleeping with your contacts in once. It really depends on how sensitive your eyes are.

If the lens tightens on your eye, it can create tiny tears on your cornea. Corneal tearing leads to an increased risk of inflammation and infection. Prevent this from happening by always taking your lenses out before you sleep.

What About Continuous Wear Lenses?

So you take out your lenses before hitting the hay, right? Well, sometimes your forget. There are times when you're too tired and can’t be bothered. And other times, you just don't feel like it: life happens. If you find yourself in these situations often, ask your eye doctor about continuous wear lenses. You can go to bed with them on. They are thinner than daily use lenses and allow more oxygen through. Still, wearing extended wear contacts doesn't mean you never have to take them out. It's still a good idea to sleep without them at least once a week. Giving your eyes more time to recover is always a good thing. So if you can remove them, do so! Many eye care professionals recommend taking any contacts out nightly even if the FDA says they're safe for continuous wear. Allowing your eyes to breathe without any barriers can give you more comfort and less chance of infections.

Do This First After Sleeping With Your Contacts In

older woman putting drops in left eye

You wake up and realize you forgot to take your contacts out the night before. It's not the end of the world, as long as you care for your eyes first thing in the morning.

The first step is taking the contacts out. But doing this might get tricky. Your lenses can stiffen and cling to your eye due to lack of oxygen and moisture. In this case, leave them in for a while and give them a chance to rehydrate.

If you still can't remove them after some time has passed, don't force them out. Instead, resort to your rewetting drops. Apply them according to directions. Do this until your eyes are moist enough to release the contacts.

Once you get them out, avoid cleaning and reinserting them right away. Drop them in their case with solution and use your eyeglasses for the rest of the day. This will give your eyes a chance to relax and restore their moisture balance.

If nothing works and you're still struggling to take your contacts out, call your optometrist. Persistent irritation, discomfort or dryness can all be signs of a more serious issue.

Signs of Infection

What are the signs of eye infection caused by sleeping with your contacts in? The most common ones include:

If you experience any of these symptoms, you might need to book an examination as soon as possible. Remove your contacts and make an appointment with your eye doctor.

Early-stage infections are easy to treat with antibiotic drops. Your optometrist can identify early stages of corneal neovascularization or keratitis and give you the appropriate treatment.

Eye Protection and Contact Care

contact lenses care solution tweezers case and drops

Our eyes are precious and sensitive. But if you slept with contacts in, it's not the end of the world. Everyone does it at some point. This doesn't mean you should make a habit out of it though.

Remove them right away upon waking. Clean your contacts and put them away. Then moisturize with rewetting drops and wear your glasses to allow your eyes to relax and heal. If symptoms persist, call your optometrist.

What's the best way to avoid this situation and protect your eyes when wearing contacts? Wearing daily lenses and removing them every night!

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