4 Things You Need to Know about Contact Lens Overwear Syndrome

Contact lenses are very popular: more than 30 million Americans wear them. Contact lenses are a safe alternative to glasses when they're worn properly, but when they're not worn properly, they can lead to complications such as contact lens overwear syndrome, also known as contact lens-associated red eye. Here are four things you need to know about contact lens overwear syndrome.

1. What are the signs of contact lens overwear syndrome?

If you develop contact lens overwear syndrome, your eyes will be sore and red. You may also notice that there are more blood vessels visible in the whites of your eyes than there normally are. Another possible symptom is the feeling that your eyes are tired or dry.

Swollen corneas can also result in hazy or warped vision. This happens because light needs to pass through your corneas to get inside your eyes. If you notice any of these signs, remove your contact lenses and see your optometrist for an evaluation.

2. What causes contact lens overwear syndome?

Contact lens overwear syndrome is a type of keratitis. Keratitis refers to inflammation of your corneas, which are the tissues in the front of your eyes that your contact lenses rest on top of. If you wear your contact lenses for longer than you're supposed to, your corneas could become irritated.

Prolonged wear of your contact lenses can irritate your corneas in a few different ways. If you wear your lenses for too long, they may lead to you getting hypoxia. Hypoxia means that your corneas don't have the oxygen they need. Your corneas don't get oxygen from blood like your other tissues; instead, they absorb oxygen from your tears. When your contact lenses are on top of your corneas for a long time, they interfere with this important oxygen absorption process.

Contact lens overwear can scratch your delicate corneas, which leads to corneal abrasions. As you wear your lenses, proteins, dust, and other small particles build up their surface, and these particles are abrasive. Your corneas will then become inflamed in response to this damage.

To prevent contact lens overwear syndrome, remember to follow the instructions for your lenses carefully. This may seem like common sense, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 40% and 90% of people don't follow the instructions for their lenses. You need to take your lenses out before you go to sleep and replace your lenses on a regular schedule. Some lenses need to be replaced every day while others can last for a month; your optometrist will tell you how often your particular lenses should be replaced.

3. Is contact lens overwear syndrome serious?

Contact lens overwear syndrome isn't just an annoyance; it can lead to serious eye problems caused by either hypoxia or corneal abrasions. Over time, hypoxia can lead to serious corneal problems. After prolonged oxygen deprivation, the shape of your corneas may become distorted or warped, which will damage your vision. Hypoxia can also make your corneas thinner and therefore more susceptible to damage.

Abrasions on your cornea may become infected and turn into corneal ulcers. Corneal ulcers are open sores on your corneas. The major concern with corneal ulcers is that these wounds could leave scars. Scars on your corneas are very serious because they can block light from passing through your corneas, leading to distorted vision. If your corneas become very scarred, you may need to undergo a corneal transplantation procedure to be able to see properly again.

4. How is contact lens overwear syndrome treated?

As long as the condition is caught early, before complications develop, you may not need any treatment. If your eyes are very sore, your optometrist may give you some prescription eye drops to help you manage the discomfort. You may even need to wear an eye patch to protect your eye while it heals. Your optometrist will remind you of the proper care instructions for your brand of contact lenses to help you prevent contact lens overwear syndrome in the future.

If you've been wearing your contact lenses overnight and now have red, sore eyes, you may have contact lens overwear syndrome and should see an optometrist. To set up an appointment, contact an establishment like Discover  Vision Centers.