Everything you need to know about wearing contact lenses.
A few months ago, a friend shared on Instagram that she was quitting contact lenses forever. A check-up for an eye infection revealed that her cornea already had thousands of scratches, putting her vision at risk. Her doctor attributed it to her many years of frequent lens wearing – including coloured lenses – which over time starved her eyes of oxygen.
Hers isn’t an isolated case. Wearing contact lenses have become the norm, be it for vision correction or cosmetic purposes. But can something as seemingly harmless as a lens really cause lasting damage to your eyes? Associate Professor Lim Li, senior consultant at the Corneal and External Eye Disease Department, Singapore National Eye Centre, shares her take below.
From a doctor’s point of view, would you recommend wearing contact lenses?
The safest option for vision correction is wearing glasses. Contact lens wear is generally safe but may be associated with side effects such as dry eyes and allergic conjunctivitis. The most serious complication associated with contact lens wear is infective keratitis but this is fortunately uncommon.
Can wearing contact lenses daily cause permanent damage to one’s eyes?
It is important to have regular eye checks with your lens care practitioner or doctor to ensure that you do not develop complications arising from contact lens wear. Whether you develop permanent damage from long term contact lens wear would depend on whether you develop complications. The more common complications such as dry eyes and allergic conjunctivitis are usually mild in nature and will improve once you stop lens wear. However, the more serious complication such as infective corneal ulcer can cause permanent damage to the eyes.
What are the common infections and risks caused by wearing contact lenses?
There are various types of complications associated with contact lens wear and they range from mild allergies to severe corneal infections which are potentially sight-threatening. Lens wearers should be on a constant look out for signs of complications. These include eye irritation, redness, pain, tearing, itching and blurred vision. They should consult their eye care practitioners or doctors promptly if they experience the above symptoms.
Complications associated with contact lens wear include:
– Allergic conjunctivitis
Giant papillary conjunctivitis (GPC) is a common condition associated with contact lens wear, particularly soft lens wear. The conjunctiva is usually red and inflamed from the development of papillae, which are little raised red nodules in the conjunctiva. The contact lens wearer may experience itching, increase lens awareness and mucus discharge from the eyes.
In mild cases of GPC, lens wearers can usually resume their contact lens wear with added attention to contact lens cleaning and disinfecting and they are advised to replace their soft lenses more frequently. In more severe cases, contact lens wear should be suspended for at least a month. Treatment with medicated eye drops may reduce the inflammation and symptoms. Re-fitting with a disposable soft lens is recommended and if GPC is still present, switching to rigid permeable lenses may allow successful wear.
– Infected corneal ulcer
This is the most dangerous contact lens related complication. Once present and especially if treatment is delayed, it may not be possible to prevent complications such as scarring, perforation or even loss of the eye.
Corneal ulcers occur more frequently in extended or overnight soft lens wear than in daily soft lens wear. A corneal ulcer is marked by a red eye, worsening pain, photophobia (sensitivity to light) and tearing. The lens wearer may also notice a white spot in the cornea. If this happens, remove the lenses immediately and consult an eye-care practitioner or doctor.
– Corneal hypoxia
Corneal hypoxia (lack of oxygen) is one of the most common complications that arises from over-wearing contact lenses. Contact lenses reduce the amount of oxygen that your cornea gets and this can cause irritation and discomfort. Corneal hypoxia may present as increasing redness and discomfort over the course of the day as the lenses are worn. There may also be swelling of the cornea and blood vessels growing into the cornea. Contact lens wear should be stopped for the cornea to heal after which the eye should be re-fit with a lens that has higher oxygen transmissibility.
How can one keep their eyes safe when wearing contact lenses?
To wear contact lens safely, lens wearers should:
– Have your contact lenses fitted by a registered lens care practitioner and go for regular check-ups. Do not purchase contact lens online without prior fitting as contact lenses need to be fitted according to the shape and curvature of the cornea.
– Follow lens care instruction properly especially cleaning and storage of lenses.
– Replace lens on a regular basis.
– Never re-insert lenses without first disinfecting.
– Always wash hands prior to handling lenses.
– Avoid swimming with lenses in the eye.
– Avoid wearing contact lenses overnight.
– Discontinue wear if red eye develops.
Who should avoid wearing contact lenses?
Contact lens wear may not be suitable for some people. For example, those who work in a dusty environment or are exposed to chemicals, and those with dry eyes, allergic rhinitis and asthma.
Is it possible for contact lenses to get lost in one’s eye?
Yes, sometimes the lens can get lodged in the lower or upper eyelid and the lens wearer may forget that the lens is not removed from the eye. The lens lodged in the lower lid can be easily removed. However, the lens lodged in the upper eyelid might be more difficult to remove and may require your lens care practitioner/doctor to flip over the upper lid to remove the lens.