Sleeping in Contact Lenses
There are around 680,000 contact lens wearers here in Australia, and it is likely that at one time or another most of them have fallen asleep with their lenses in.
We know we shouldn't do it. But many of us do. Sometimes we're just too tired to bother with taking out our lenses and cleaning them. Sometimes we've gone out without our cases or our cleaning solution. Sometimes our lenses can feel so comfortable that we just can't be bothered. So, we feel tempted to sleep with our lenses in.
What harm could it do?
Well, lots. For a start you will wake up with very dry eyes if you've slept with your soft contact lenses in. Your lens will have become dry and absorbed water from your eye to keep itself moist. So you'll now have an itchy, red, dry eye.
Plus, sleeping in lenses is a major cause of a nasty eye infection called microbial keratitis. This is painful and can lead to blindness.
Or your lens could have become stuck to your eyelid. NOTE: your lens cannot get stuck behind your eye; there's a muscle in the way. It can get stuck to your eyelid or eyeball though and that can be painful.
Or your lens could have become brittle or clouded so you cannot see a thing. That is scary but it is only temporary.
I slept in my lenses and one of them is now brittle and stuck
Do not try and pull the lens out of your eye. This can tear your cornea. Put some re-wetting drops, some safe-for-eyes contact lens solution, saline solution or at a pinch, even some plain water into your eyes then wait for a few minutes for the lenses to absorb the liquid and soften. Once softened, they should come out easily.
Thoroughly clean your lenses and let them soak for a while to refresh them before putting them back into your eyes and give your eyes a rest from your lenses for a while too. Also, as soon as you can, visit your optician to make sure that no lasting damage has been done.
So what should we do?
If you know you're going to be staying overnight, then take your lens case and your cleaning solution with you. If you suddenly find yourself out overnight without your lens case and solution, then don't sleep with your lenses in. Wash your hands and remove your lenses and, if all else fails, pop them in a glass of water to keep them moist. Don't, however, put them back into your eyes the following morning until you have had a chance to clean them properly with your cleaning solution. Cleaning your lenses in water isn't cleaning them at all. It's just loading them with lots of nasty micro-organisms that can infect your eye.
Use night-wear lenses
For people who might have to sleep in their lenses, such as doctors, people on call, etc., there is an alternative to having to keep removing your lenses and cleaning them. You can buy night-wear lenses that have been specially formulated to be worn whilst you sleep. Johnson & Johnson and Bausch & Lomb both produce these kinds of lenses. Ask your optician if you think you might need them.