Over the weekend, I encountered someone who was unwilling to stop wearing his contact lenses despite redness and irritation. This was at a social event, so I was unable to examine him properly, but I urged him to remove his lenses and visit his optometrist the next day. The rule of thumb is when in doubt, take it out! This is why it’s also important for contact lens wearers to have a good pair of glasses with a current prescription, in the event that you are unable to wear your contacts. He didn’t like wearing his glasses because the vision was not as good as with his contacts (perhaps an outdated prescription). For other people, it may be a vanity reason. In that case, it’s worth remembering that a big, red, drippy eye is not attractive either!
It is just not worth the risk. I was reminded of a recent news article where a student lost her eyesight as a result of over-wearing her contact lenses. She did not remove her limited-wear, disposable contact lenses for six months, and even wore them when swimming. Contact lenses decrease the amount of oxygen available to the cornea, especially when sleeping (even over one night!). This leaves them unhealthy and vulnerable to infection. Compounded with the bacteria from shower water and swimming pool water clinging onto the contacts, and you’ve got a recipe for an infection.
This girl was particularly unlucky, because Acanthamoeba infections are rare and extremely devastating for the cornea, but there are other bacteria in tap water and on the skin which are much more common and can also cause infections when the eyes are left vulnerable with contact lens over-wear. This case underscores the importance of using contact lenses as prescribed, taking them out every night, and disinfecting them with new solution every night.
If your eyes look red, feel sore or painful, or have a gooey discharge, take your contacts out ASAP and go see your optometrist!