Saving money is on everyone’s mind in these uncertain economic times. There are various areas where small changes can mean real savings – carpooling to work, bringing a bagged lunch and a brewed cup of coffee from home as opposed to going out. But when saving a few dollars comes at the expense of your health, the long-term risks far exceed any short-term benefits. This is the case with contact lenses.
Although wearing your contact lenses for longer than your prescription allows may seem like an easy way to save some money, it can have detrimental effects on ocular health.
Contact lenses are a medical device and should be treated as such, in accordance with the recommendations of your eye care practitioner. Wearing contact lenses for too long can lead to abnormal blood vessel growth on the cornea; epithelial microcysts; thinning of the cornea; and reduced corneal sensitivity.
Eye problems caused by contact lens overwear are generally due to a decrease in oxygen transmitted to the eye. Oxygen is essential to the health of the cornea. When the eye is not absorbing enough oxygen through the contact lens, hypoxic conditions ensue. Hypoxia can lead to serious infections, including microbial keratitis, a painful and potentially sight-threatening corneal infection.
Eye infections and other problems that arise from improper contact lens care can be very costly – medical expenses and lost days of work, not to mention the inconvenience and impact on quality of life of vision problems. In 1990, researchers estimated that the cost of blindness and visual impairment to the federal budget of the United States was approximately $4 billion.
Risks and best practices
Contact lenses have been around for more than 100 years and though significant advances have been made in that time, the risks and side effects associated with wear remain a reality.
A contact lens is a foreign object to the eye. If the lens does not fit properly or is not properly cared for, it can adversely affect vision and the eye itself.
The most common problems associated with contact lens wear are excess tearing, itching or burning, dryness, sensitivity to light, and distorted vision. All of these symptoms can be worsened by improper lens care, which includes wearing lenses too long.
On occasion, a contact lens wearer will wear their lenses until their vision becomes blurred or distorted, and may not realize that this behavior can cause permanent, irreversible damage to the cornea, the front covering of the eye which provides about two-thirds of the eye’s focusing power.
When contact lens wearers disregard their cleaning and lens replacement schedules, the ability of their contact lens to transmit oxygen to the cornea decreases, and deposits build up on the lens surface and within the lens material itself.
The continued wear of lenses with protein deposits can lead to infections, giant papillary conjunctivitis, and potentially serious long-term hypoxic changes such as myopia creep, corneal thinning, and chronic low-grade corneal edema.
Cutting corners with contact lens care can result in temporary, and in some cases, permanent eye damage. However, contact lens wearers who properly maintain and care for their lenses are benefited greatly by it.
Although there are several types of contact lenses that are approved for continuous wear for up to 30 days, this schedule is not appropriate for everyone. Wearing lenses at night reduces the amount of oxygen that is transmitted to the cornea. This reduction in oxygen absorption can damage the surface of the cornea, allowing germs and bacteria to grow more rapidly.
Every person’s eyes are different and respond differently to contact lenses. It is important to discuss a schedule that best suits your individual needs with your eye care practitioner.
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