The short answer is NO, it is not at all safe to sleep or shower with your contact lenses on. (1)
For an in-depth answer, continue to read here where we will be discussing all the reasons why you shouldn’t be wearing contacts when sleeping or showering and what will happen if you do.
First We Will Discuss About Why You Shouldn’t Sleep With Contacts In
Contact lenses are thin discs, which are clear in appearance and are placed onto the outer corneal (eye) layer. Just like glasses, the purpose of wearing the contact lenses is to correct your vision without the hassle of glasses that can spoil your aesthetics or your look. According to the National Eye Institute, about 45 million of Americans are contact lens wearers. (2)
There are many of us who have mistakenly slept without removing the contacts from our eyes with the following morning waking up with some mild dryness in the eyes. (1) It is not at all recommended to sleep without removing your contacts, as it increases the risk of an eye infection. Experts also say that sleeping with contacts on increases the risk of a corneal infection.
Why Exactly Does Sleeping With Contact Lens Can Cause Eye Infections?
Our eyes encounter different microorganisms on a daily basis, but manage to avoid infection because of the natural protection provided by our tears. As we blink, there is production of fresh oxygen and new tear fluid into the eyes and this keeps the cornea healthy and lubricated. When you choose to wear contacts, they fit snugly over the cornea and this blocks the tear fluid thus making it harder for the cornea to defend against any infection causing microbes. When you accidentally sleep with contacts in, then this causes your corneas to receive even lesser tear fluid than usual as you are not blinking when asleep. This causes the tears to get below the lens and mix with all the fluid present under the lenses. Other than this, when you sleep with your contacts in or if you wear contacts for long period of time, then this greatly cuts down on the amount of oxygen reaching your cornea and can potentially damage the surface of the cornea along with affecting its ability for regenerating new fresh cells thus resulting in increased risk of infection. (3, 10) Also when your wear your contacts overnight, it allows bacteria to grow and develop into an infection.
What to Do If You Have Fallen Asleep With Your Contacts On?
Even if you accidentally fall asleep with your contacts in, then remove your contacts as soon as you wake up. Check if you can easily remove them and if it feels they are stuck, then DO NOT pull them; instead blink and make use of eye drops to provide lubrication, so that the contacts are easier to remove.
After removing the contacts, you need to give your eyes a break and avoid wearing contacts for the whole day. Along with this, pay attention to how your eyes are feeling and looking. If are experiencing any symptoms of infection, then seek medical consultation and bring your contact lenses to your appointment.
What Type Of Eye Infection Can Occur If You Sleep With Your Contacts In?
Microbial keratitis is a type of inflammation of the cornea that can occur as a result of the infection from wearing contact lenses overnight, which in turn increases the risk of getting this infection about five times over. (6) This risk is present irrespective of the lens type; whether it is hard, soft, prescription or decorative. The sad thing is many teenagers as well as adults fail to remove their contacts when sleeping.
According to research, it is not recommend to sleep with contacts even if those contacts are approved for extended or overnight wear. As mentioned before there is significant increase in the risk of eye infection if you sleep contacts in. In some serious cases, there can be permanent vision loss and corneal damage from these infections. Some of the infections that can occur as a result of sleeping with your contacts on are:
Bacterial Keratitis: (7) Inflammation of the cornea is known as bacterial keratitis and if this is not treated on time, it can cause partial or complete vision loss. The risk of this infection increases when you wear contacts overnight. There are more than one type of bacteria responsible for bacterial infections, such as Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa that can be found in water, soil and human body.
Bacterial keratitis occurs as a result of transmission of bacteria onto the lenses through your fingers when you are putting your contacts on or removing them. These bacteria from your hand can also further transfer from the lenses or storage container if not properly cleaned. If you are using water for rinsing your lenses and not the contact lens solution, then it can further increase the risk of developing bacterial keratitis.
Fungal Keratitis: (9) This inflammation of the cornea is caused by a fungal infection, and can result in blindness or vision loss if left untreated. Some of the causative fungi include: Aspergillus, Fusarium, and Candida species. Fungal Keratitis is commonly seen in tropical parts of the world; however, can develop in any climate.(4) Treatment for fungal keratitis consists of antifungal medicine; however, severe cases may need surgery or a corneal transplant. Some of the risk factors include: wearing contact lens and especially failing to remove them before sleeping and eye injury.
Acanthamoeba Keratitis: (8) This is a persistent type of corneal inflammation caused by amoeba and can result in blindness or vision loss if not treated on time. Acanthamoeba is a minute organism responsible for causing this infection and it is present in natural water bodies, tap water, soil, hot tubs, air conditioning and heating systems.
Some of the reasons why contact lenses wearers develop Acanthamoeba keratitis are poor contact lens hygiene, showering or swimming with the contact lenses in. A scrape in your cornea occurring as a result of injury can also lead to this infection where the organism enters your eye through the scrape via contact lens solution or water.
Sleeping with your contact lenses overnight increases the risk of Acanthamoeba keratitis. When a person wears contacts for long periods of time, then it reduces the amount of oxygen supplied to the cornea and this in turn impairs the ability of the cornea to protect itself against any harmful microorganisms. (10)
Can You Nap While Wearing Contacts?
The answer is same, NO; it is not safe to nap when wearing contacts, as there is still the risk of infection. If you think you are likely to fall asleep during daytime, then remove your contact lenses the first thing.
Now Let’s Talk About Why You Shouldn’t Shower With Contacts In
One of the important things to bear in mind when choosing to wear contacts is to keep them away from water, which means that you absolutely shouldn’t be wearing them when you are taking a shower. The reason why you can’t wear contacts when showering are the same, as why you can’t wear them when going to sleep. If you are wearing your contacts when showering or swimming then this also increases the risk of keratitis (cornmeal inflammation), which when not treated on time can cause vision loss.
When you open your eyes in the shower with the contacts still inside, then you are exposing your lenses to all sorts of harmful microorganisms. Water contains lots of microorganisms, such as fungus, amoeba and bacteria; especially tap water. A specific type of keratitis is microbial keratitis where germs enter the cornea resulting in eye infection. The organisms responsible for causing these infections are present in different water sources, such as tap water used for showering and bathing.
When your contacts get exposed to water then it can cause them to get distorted or stick to the eye. This in turn can cause corneal abrasion which further increases the risk of eye infections.
In some cases, these scratches on the cornea can also cause a non-infectious type of keratitis. These abrasions on the cornea can permit the germs thriving in the non-sterile water to enter the eye and cause infection.
Types of Germs That Cause Microbial Keratitis
There are different types of germs which can cause microbial keratitis. Acanthamoeba is one specific type of organism which causes parasitic keratitis in relation to water. Acanthamoeba is found in various water sources, such as well water, tap water and lake water. Acanthamoeba keratitis can be extremely serious and cause loss of vision or require corneal transplant. Treatment for Acanthamoeba keratitis is also difficult and can last a year or more according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some of the other germs responsible for causing microbial keratitis and that are found in water sources are:
Viruses: Some of the viruses which can cause keratitis are: varicella zoster virus (VZV); herpes simplex virus (HSV) and adenovirus.
Bacteria: Different types of bacteria causing bacterial keratitis are: Staphylococcus, Pseudomonas and Streptococcus species.
Fungi: Some of the fungi responsible for fungal keratitis include: Candida, Aspergillus and Fusarium species.
Important Facts About Water and Contact Lenses
A study in 2020 showed that showering with contacts on was one of the greatest risk factor related to hygiene for developing microbial keratitis.
A survey done in 2017 revealed that may of the contact lens wearers exposed their contacts to water regularly in some way or the other.
What Are The Symptoms Of Eye Infection Occurring As A Result Of Sleeping Or Showering With The Contacts On? (7, 11)
- Worsening pain in the eye that doesn’t abate upon removing the contacts.
- Irritation of the eyes producing a gritty feeling or a feeling of something stuck in the eye.
- Eye redness, discharge or tearing.
- Blurry vision and sensitivity to light.
What To Do If Symptoms Persist Even After Removing The Contacts? (11)
If your symptoms are persisting, then you need to consult your doctor. If you are experiencing symptoms of keratitis even if you haven’t exposed your contacts to water, then seek medical consultation and do the following:
Remove Your Contacts Immediately: Gently remove your contacts from your eyes and keep then in the container. Use your eyeglasses if need be, but do not put your contacts back in.
Visit Your Doctor: Consult your doctor to determine the cause of symptoms and for appropriate treatment.
Take your contacts with you: Show the contacts that your were wearing to your doctor, as this can help in diagnosing the cause of your eye condition.
What to do if You Need to Wear Contacts Around Water?
Some people have extremely poor vision and it becomes impossible to not wear their contacts when showering or swimming. In such cases, always keep your eyes closed when you turn your face towards the shower. And when swimming or using a hot tub, always wear goggles to protect your contact-covered eyes.
Tips To Follow When Wearing Contact Lenses to Avoid Infections (5, 11)
Always Avoid Water: Ensure that you keep your contacts away from water by:
- Never store your contacts in or near water.
- Never sleep or shower with your contacts still present in your eyes.
- Always remove your contacts before bathing, showering, or swimming.
- Disinfecting your contacts or throwing away your contacts which have touched water.
- Always follow product instructions when it comes to disinfecting or cleaning your contacts.
- Always use clean hands when handling your contacts, as there are various germs present on your hands, so it is important to wash your hands before you touch your contacts and place them over your eyes.
- Proper storage of contacts is important. Use contact lens solution for storing your contacts and always use fresh solution. Never “top off” the solution present in the case.
- Always wear contacts for the appropriate amount of time and try not to wear them for longer than the recommended period of time.
- Always replace your contacts lens case every 3 months at least.
- If you are feeling any irritation or discomfort in your eyes, then immediately remove your contacts and meet your ophthalmologist.
- Never ever use any contact lens that looks damaged.
- Always keep your up-to-date eyeglasses handy to wear when you are not wearing your contacts.
It is not safe to wear contacts to sleep or shower with your contacts on. Always keep your contacts away from water, as water contains lot of germs. Always follow the best practices for cleaning, wearing and storing of contacts. When having symptoms like eye pain, sensitivity to light, eye discharge, then remove your contacts and consult your doctor ASAP.