The Side Effects of Wearing Contact Lenses Long-Term: Conditions & Symptoms to Watch Out For

The use of contact lenses is preferred by many as their main solution for addressing impaired vision. This is because contact lenses don’t drastically alter your overall appearance, and they don’t interfere with participation in activities or hobbies. But, they are not without their own set of risks, and may not be the right solution for everyone. If you are someone who’s been wearing contact lenses for years, you are at a higher risk for developing serious eye issues, and as such, may want to consider switching to another vision solution.

What Causes Contact Lens Side Effects?

Before we jump into what kind of side effects you may experience as a long-term contact lens wearer, let’s quickly surmise a few causes that can lead to serious side effects.

  1. Keeping your contacts in overnight while you sleep.

  2. Not replacing your contacts every day as prescribed.

  3. Not disinfecting your contacts or lens case thoroughly.

  4. Storing your contacts in water rather than in disinfectant.

  5. Using old, unclear, or foggy lens solution.

  6. Not dumping out and refilling your lens solution daily.

  7. Wearing your contact lenses for long hours on a daily basis.

  8. Wearing contact lenses 24/7 (not allowing your eyes to breathe).

  9. Wearing expired contact lenses.

If any of the above are familiar to you, know that you are not alone. Between 40-90% of contact lens wearers don’t follow the proper care instructions for their contact lenses [1], and about 99% of people break at least 1 hygiene behavior on a regular basis [2].

9 Serious Side Effects That Can Result From Long-Term Use

1. Conjunctivitis – Red Eye. This is a very common symptom that can become serious if it isn’t treated properly. Contact lens overuse (wearing for too long) can cause red eye, with symptoms of itching, burning, excessive tearing, light sensitivity, and pink discoloration to the whites of the eyes. Other causes include hypoxia (oxygen deprivation), low humidity (dry eyes), lens deposits, misaligned or poorly fitting lenses.

2. Corneal Abrasions. Wearing your contact lenses at night or resting with them (naps), can result in corneal abrasions or scratches. This happens because the contact lens prevents your corneas from being properly hydrated and oxygenated. These types of scratches are not only uncomfortable, but particles of dirt or sand can get trapped inside them, which if left untreated can cause serious eye infections. Symptoms of eye infections include eye pain, blurred vision, light sensitivity, red eyes, irritated eyes, and eye discharge.

3. Dry Eyes. Prolonged contact lens use without breaks, can result in the development of dry eyes, which is accompanied by itchiness, irritation, and redness. If dry eyes are left untreated, this can cause corneal scarring, making the cornea less permeable. To avoid dry eyes, do not wear your contacts 24/7, use eye drops when necessary, and use other vision solution methods to give your eyes a break.

4. Corneal Ulcers. When a fungal, bacterial, parasitic infection, or viral infection causes an open sore in the cornea of the eye, you get a corneal ulcer. Symptoms include redness, severe pain, feeling like there is a foreign object in your eye, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, eyelid swelling, and eye discharge. If not treated promptly, it can lead to total blindness. A corneal transplant is often recommended for regaining sight.

5. Oxygen Deprivation – Hypoxia. A healthy cornea requires a constant supply of oxygen to the eye’s clear, outermost layer. By sitting directly on top of the cornea, contact lenses obstruct this flow, which can cause hypoxia. Sleepers who wear contact lenses designed for short-term rather than long-term use are most susceptible to this problem. Symptoms of this include blurry vision, corneal swelling, and burning sensations.

6. Superficial Keratitis – Corneal Inflammation. Similar to conjunctivitis, but only impacts the outermost layer of the cornea. Symptoms include itchiness, eye pain, and foreign body sensation. It can be caused by infection, allergens, improper lens care, mechanical irritation, or a combination of these. Antibiotic treatment, lens refitting, and lens care guidelines are the go-to solutions for this.

7. Corneal Vascularization – Blood Vessel Overgrowth. When you keep your lenses in for too long, you’re preventing your eyes from obtaining the fluids they require, but you’re also restricting their supply of oxygen. As a result of decreased oxygen flow, your eyes will attempt to develop new blood vessels in order to improve the amount of oxygen flowing through them. These extra blood vessels can prevent light from passing through the cornea, which may lead to eye damage.

8. Lens Intolerance. Contact lenses are recognized as foreign objects by your body, and thus may result in an immune response resulting in symptoms like itching, eye pain, redness, irritation, and excess mucus production. A history of allergies may make you more prone to developing lens intolerance.

9. Permanent Vision Issues from Ill-Fitting Contact Lenses. When it comes to fitting contact lenses correctly, each eye is distinctive. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and using lower-cost, unapproved contact lenses may have detrimental consequences for your eyes and vision even if the risks aren’t immediately apparent. Symptoms include eye discomfort, blurry vision (with contacts in), red eyes, itchiness or burning sensations, and excessive tearing (eye discharge). Continued use despite these symptoms can cause infections, lens intolerance, abrasions, and vision loss.

Want to Know More?

If you are tired of wearing contact lenses, or are concerned about the side effects listed above, Schedule Your Vision Correction Consultation or call us at (407) 843-5665. Our Orlando eye surgeons here at Magruder Laser Vision would love to discuss alternative vision solutions with you, to ensure that you have a healthier and improved vision going forward.