Contact lenses are a popular option for vision correction in the United States. According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 45 million Americans wear contact lenses. While contact lenses are generally considered safe, improper care or extended use, particularly during sleep, can cause serious eye health issues, as TV star Tori Spelling recently experienced.
Spelling was seen wearing a bedazzled eyepatch at the end of March, which she explained was covering an ulcer on her eye caused by sleeping in contact lenses for prolonged periods. Spelling admitted to wearing daily contact lenses for up to 20 days and not taking them out before sleeping. “It’s my fault, I did this to myself,” Spelling said on her 9021omg podcast. “I have contacts, but I have daily ones. And at the end of the day, whatever. I can make all the excuses I want. I don’t take them out. I sleep in them. And it’s not healthy.”
Spelling’s experience highlights the importance of proper contact lens hygiene and care. Wearing contact lenses for extended periods can restrict the cornea’s access to oxygen, leading to damage to the surface cells of the cornea, called the epithelial cells. These cells can deteriorate and die, leading to potentially serious infections such as bacterial keratitis, which is a painful defect in the cornea’s surface frequently caused by bacterial infections.
Experts recommend following the guidelines for proper contact lens care and use. This includes removing contact lenses before sleeping and cleaning them daily. Dr. Jordan Jones, a clinical instructor at the Washington University in St. Louis Department of Vision Science, emphasized that the risk of eye issues increases when patients don’t follow the rules.
According to James Reynolds, MD, professor and chair of the University at Buffalo Department of Ophthalmology Ross Eye Institute, the cornea needs access to oxygen from the air. The cornea’s outer layer, where contact lenses sit, doesn’t have any blood vessels, making it more difficult for oxygen to reach it when the contact lenses are in place.
While sleeping in contact lenses may seem like a convenient option, it can cause long-term harm to the eyes. Dr. Reynolds explained that injuries to the corneal surface cells due to oxygen deprivation occur every now and then, and in most cases, the cells repair themselves. However, if the cells are deprived of oxygen for too long, which can happen when someone wears their contact lenses overnight repeatedly, the problem can get worse.
Dr. Robert Feder, director of cornea service in the department of ophthalmology and professor of ophthalmology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, added that soft contact lenses hang on to water and can also cling onto debris or bacteria that accidentally get into the eye throughout the day. If lenses aren’t frequently cleaned, people run the risk of getting an infection. This risk is even higher if they sleep in their contacts.
“Bacteria love it when it’s warm and dark. Well, what is it when you’re sleeping?” Dr. Feder said. “You’re creating a situation that’s warm and dark.” Sleeping in contact lenses, especially if done often, creates a perfect storm. The cornea cells are more vulnerable to bacteria, and the bacteria are given a good environment to grow and take hold. This can cause a corneal ulcer (bacterial keratitis), which is a painful defect in the cornea’s surface frequently caused by these bacterial infections.
Dr. Feder explained that bacterial keratitis can be treated with aggressive antibiotics, but whether it causes long-term vision issues depends on the situation. “If you have an ulcer that’s far away from the line of sight, maybe that can be treated. It’ll leave a scar but it won’t affect your vision. But if the ulcer is located close to the center of your cornea, it can be a real problem. This is because the cornea is responsible for refracting light and focusing it onto the retina. Any abnormalities or disruptions in the cornea can cause distorted or blurred vision, which can be a serious hindrance to daily life. In severe cases, it can even lead to blindness.
To diagnose a corneal ulcer, your ophthalmologist will typically perform a comprehensive eye exam. This may include using a slit lamp microscope to examine the cornea more closely, as well as taking a culture of any discharge or material that may be present in the ulcer. This will help identify any potential bacterial, viral or fungal infections that may be causing the ulcer.
Treatment for a corneal ulcer will depend on its cause and severity. In some cases, antibiotics or antifungal medications may be prescribed to treat an underlying infection. In more severe cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the affected tissue and prevent the ulcer from spreading further.
Prevention is key when it comes to corneal ulcers. Good hygiene practices, such as washing your hands regularly and avoiding touching your eyes, can help reduce your risk of infection. It’s also important to protect your eyes from injury or trauma by wearing protective eyewear when engaging in sports or other activities that may put your eyes at risk.
In addition, if you wear contact lenses, it’s important to follow proper cleaning and storage guidelines to prevent the buildup of bacteria or other pathogens that can cause corneal ulcers. This includes cleaning and disinfecting your lenses regularly, as well as replacing them as recommended by your eye care provider.
In summary, corneal ulcers can be a serious and potentially sight-threatening condition if left untreated. If you experience any symptoms such as eye pain, redness, or decreased vision, it’s important to seek prompt medical attention from an ophthalmologist. With early diagnosis and proper treatment, most corneal ulcers can be effectively managed, helping to preserve your vision and overall eye health.