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Are my eyes going to be OK? I haven’t taken my contacts out for a month…

River and countryside in northern Thailand

This is what one of my best friends from college told me over the phone a few years ago. As an eye doctor, this made me almost want to vomit.  Let me explain.

You see, my friend found herself in between jobs and on the trip of a lifetime to southeast asia. She was planning to go to Thailand, Vietnam, and other exotic locals in one of the hottest and most humid locations on earth. Amongst all the things she remembered to pack (her swimsuits, her sunscreen, her toothbrush), she did not remember to pack any contact lens solution or a lens case.

To give you a little context: this was during the early days of the TSA, when the volume of liquid you were allowed to carry aboard was ill-defined and was definitely less than the full-sized bottle of ReNu that she had at home. So I can see why she hadn’t brought any contact solution along — she probably was busy taking care of other details of her trip and didn’t have time to buy any travel-sized eye care items. Fine. She actually told me that she was planning to pick up some contact solution when she got to Thailand… but then she just didn’t do it.

That’s where I believe she went astray from common sense. She said to herself, “ok… let’s just see what happens to my eyes if I don’t take my contacts out for the entire month over here.” When she finally got back to the states, she called me to ask if the burning sensation she was having in her eyes was normal. In short, no it wasn’t.

I’ll go out on a limb here and say that every eye doctor out there would say this was a stupid move. My friend was a time-bomb waiting to go off… her eyes ripe for a serious infection. The story ended well, she just had contact lens overwear syndrome and no eye infection, but it could have been a lot worse — like blind-forever-from-a-horribly-aggressive-bacterial-or-fungal-eye-infection worse (see graphic picture below).

Severely inflamed eye with a large corneal ulcer

Here are the take home points about contact lens care:

– Never wear your contact lenses overnight (even if they are marketed as “overnight wear” lenses). The probability of getting a contact lens associated eye infection is dramatically higher if you sleep in your lenses (even the special “overnight” lenses). There are really no “overnight wear” lenses. Have I been clear?

– Use new contact lens solution to clean your lenses every night.  Never make your own solution to save money (or use tap water). I personally like the Ciba ClearCare solution pictured here and use it every day for my contacts.  It is preservative free (to minimize allergies and eye irritation) and uses 3% hydrogen peroxide to sanitize your contacts while you sleep. There is even a TSA approved travel bottle in this package!

Hydrogen peroxide based contact lens cleaner

– Replace your contacts according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  1-day lenses are not designed to be worn for 1 week, 2-week lenses were not designed to be worn for 1 month and 1-month lenses were not designed to be worn for 2 months. You get the point…

– Replace your contact case at least two times per year — old cases harbor bacteria.

– Don’t spit on your lenses to clean them. Your mouth has some pretty nasty bacteria in it that could that can lead to an eye infection if you put the lenses back into your eye.

– If there is any question that you may have an eye infection or if your eyes hurt or become red when you put your contacts in, don’t wear them. Use your glasses until you can get to an ophthalmologist for an eye exam. Hopefully, it’s just eye surface irritation or an early infection and not a full-blown corneal ulcer.

If you abide by the above recommendations, you will decrease the likelihood of running into a contact lens related eye infection.  I have taken care of a lot of those and trust me, they are really nasty things that you don’t want to get or you could end up like this patient.

One more thing, don’t wear your contact lenses overnight.

(Note: My friend gave me permission to write this post and share her story as a cautionary tale for others.   I also have no financial relationship with any of the commercial products mentioned or depicted above.)

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27 comments on “Are my eyes going to be OK? I haven’t taken my contacts out for a month…

  1. Zoe
    January 13, 2013

    I need to tell you that I loved this article lol! I’m 13 and my mom iks literally forcing me to wear my contacts when I never even asked for them. She makes me sleep in them and shower in them even though I try to tell her that it hurts my eyes to do all of that stuff:( I showed her this awesome article you wrote, but all what she did was say “Hmm… cool. But you’re still wearing them [contacts] and walked away. Do you have any advice on convincing her to let me wear my contacts? My contacts are really uncomfortable and I hate wearing them. Thank you!

    • jackie
      September 20, 2014

      Okay so i didn’t take out my contacts for like 3 days, and now my eye is red.. not all the way red there is just some pink/red lines covering some of the white part of the eye. Its not that bad, but its a little red and i wanted to know if there is anything i could apply to my eye to get rid of the red faster.. also does this mean i have an infenction? Thank you!

      • visionmd
        September 20, 2014

        I would recommend that you see an eye doctor right away to make sure that you don’t have an eye infection

  2. Monica
    January 17, 2013

    Hi i have a question. What treatment did your friend recieve?

    • visionmd
      January 17, 2013

      Fortunately, my friend did not suffer any of the potential consequences of keeping her contacts in for extended periods of time. So she lucked out. If one were to have a corneal ulcer from a contact lens related infection, the usual treatment is high dose antibiotic drops (called fortified antibiotics), which are given on an hourly basis for the first few days. It can take weeks of eyedrops to fully cure the infection and sometimes you can end up with a corneal scar in the end that can also degrade your vision.

  3. Zach Swinerton
    August 21, 2013

    I wear my contacts for 3-4 MONTHS at a time without taking them out….. I wake up, immediately drop multi solution in my eyes then wash my face with warm water and anti-bacterial soap and then blink my eyes. I have been doing this for 23 YEARS……….I wear normal Accuvue 2 lenses. I have NEVER had an infection, nor problem doing this….. 80% of lenses are all the same, but marketed differently… It’s a consumer scam. I did research on the chemical breakdowns of many common lenses, and they are mostly all the same, but packaged differently, or have a different tint to them.

    • visionmd
      August 21, 2013

      I think you are taking a big risk with your eyes.

    • Blake Wilson
      September 21, 2013

      i do the same exact thing i take them out when i blink and they get blurry, that lets me know when they are worn out and time to change them. then i give my eyes a night to breath

    • jasmaine tate
      January 9, 2017

      see i read things like this on several sites! sadly I have been doing this for I would say umm 14 years and haven’t had a problem. I had on eye infection but thats because I scratched my eye… it wasn’t one that led me to see an eye doctor or anything. Also, I just called and confessed to my eye doctor and he said if its not causing me problems then he suggest I wash them once a week to avoid infection. I want to know the percentage of people who actually suffered from vision loss due to it.

  4. Pingback: The dangers of costume contact lenses | VisionMD

  5. Mel
    July 23, 2014

    If you didn’t wear you contact lenses for a week do you have to change the water everyday?

    • visionmd
      July 23, 2014

      Yes. It is advisable to change the contact lens solution on a daily basis if you are not wearing your contacts.

      • sarah
        November 24, 2014

        Lol doctor why do you waste your time answering these dumb questions I can assure you half of them are trolling

      • visionmd
        November 24, 2014

        Just trying to keep the conversation going 🙂

    • Mel
      July 23, 2014

      Or just change the water weekly( I think that’s what my doc told me, not sure if I heard it right tho)

  6. visionmd
    July 23, 2014

    It depends on the type/brand of solution. The safest thing to do is daily switches, but going a week should probably be ok. I would read the box for the type of solution you have and go by that.

  7. sasha
    October 11, 2014

    hello!! I forget to replace the new solution for my lens one whole day …so will it affect my lens ?

  8. Brittany
    November 18, 2014

    Hi, I read your article just for some quick research. I don’t wear glasses myself but my friend does, and I had recently asked him how often he sleep in his contacts and he told me he does it almost every night, and has been doing it for years. He doesn’t recall the last time he’s cleaned them but cleans them before he puts them In after wearing glasses. He says there’s nothing to worry about but I’m kinda scared he’s gonna get a bad infection but insists that if he was gonna get one, he would have gotten one already. Is it possible at all to be ok even if he continues that habit???

    • visionmd
      November 19, 2014

      While it is possible to be “ok” for long periods of time wearing contacts overnight and not cleaning them, your friend is rolling the dice. At some point, the numbers will catch up with him and he could get an eye infection.

  9. vogelfraulein
    November 25, 2014

    I would like to point out that Ortho-K and Corneal Refractive Therapy lenses are, in fact, supposed to be worn overnight. But I guess they’re not “normal” lenses, as they reshape the eye.

    • visionmd
      November 25, 2014

      Yes, you are absolutely correct that Ortho-K and CRT use overnight lenses. In fact, there are even day work contact lenses that are marketed and designed for overnight wear as well (so called “Day and Night” lenses). However, wearing these lenses overnight can still increase your risk of a corneal infection or a corneal abrasion. So you’d be taking that risk if you do Ortho-K or CRT. As for the “Day and Night” lenses — I always advise people to still take these lenses out at night. These are actually the type of contact lenses I use because they fit my eyes the best — so I wear them during the day and then take them out to soak in cleaning solution overnight.

  10. Stacey
    February 7, 2015

    Well here’s a story for you:
    I’m an 18 year old female who’s been a contact lens wearer for roughly 3 years. However, I have the 2 week disposable Acuvue Oasis lens. The problem is that I did not take out the lens until 8 months, yes you heard me correctly, 8 MONTHS. I slept in them, I showered in them, they did not come out of my eye for 8 months. I went to the eye doctor afterwards because I was worried (obviously) and he told me my eyes were perfectly fine but me not taking them out is a huge risk. But I was perfectly fine, and he said that I pretty much got lucky.

    Now to the present: I decided to take out my new contacts yesterday (it’s been a couple months since I’ve done so) and after I took the first one, there was a burning sensation that stung very very badly. The same reaction occurred after I took the other contact out. Right now they are out of my eyes, and I’m far from my local optometrist. Why did I not have a reaction/infection from wearing my contacts for 8 months? And what could be causing this burning sensation now?
    Thank you!

    • Subham
      January 15, 2016

      Hey Stacey,

      I am going through the same thing. My eyes stung pretty badly too. Could you tell me what happened ultimately?

  11. cris
    March 17, 2015

    So I have worn my contacts for about one year straight now without even taking them out, I have had no signs of infection but sometimes I do get some irritation but never to the point.of full on infection. How could this be bad for my eyes, as far.as.getting lasic surgery?

  12. Taylor
    April 4, 2015

    I have had an eye infection and its taking a while to heal, do u think my contact days are over?

  13. jana
    December 22, 2015

    i have a question> last night i did not want to sleep in my contacts, but i did not have a contact solution water, but i knew that i cannot put them in tap water, so here is what i did> i took them out and put them in some clean shot glasses without any water. In the morning when i woke up, they wore hardened, they were like plastic hard and i think they could break at any point. Now i put them in the solution water and i do not know should i wear them if they become looking like they are made of slime and soft again.

  14. Haia
    August 27, 2016

    I cannot seem to wear my contacts directly after waking up, i get a funny burning sensation . Is that normal?

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