If you thought dry eyes were the worst that could happen if you sleep in your contact lenses every so often, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has news. The consequences can be a lot worse.
Approximately one in five contact lens-related corneal infections (i.e. those on the clear outer layer of the eye) resulted in serious damage to the eye, according to a new CDC report that analyzed 1,075 contact lens-related corneal infection medical reports sent to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration between 2005 and 2015.
Think permanent scarring, surgery or even vision loss, as this video from Time explains.
And one in every four infections occurred in contact lens wearers who reported totally avoidable behaviors like reusing cleansing solution or sleeping in their lenses.
“While severe eye infections are not common, they can lead to long-lasting damage,” Jennifer Cope, a medical epidemiologist at CDC who coauthored the new report, told The Huffington Post.
“Contact lens-related eye infections are often preventable.”
Previous research from Cope and her colleagues showed that of a survey of 4,269 contact lens wearers from across the U.S. more than 99 percent reported one behavior that put them at increased risk for an eye infection or inflammation, such as sleeping overnight or napping in contact lenses, reusing contact solution, wearing lenses longer than recommended or swimming in lenses.
Other research has shown that even occasionally sleeping overnight in contact lenses increases an individual’s risk of an infection by more than six-fold.
The problem with sleeping in your lenses is that you deprive your corneas of oxygen, Rebecca Taylor, an ophthalmologist in private practice in Nashville, Tenn., and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, previously told HuffPost.
“It’s like having a plastic bag over your head when you sleep,” she said. “It’s not ideal for oxygen exchange.”
To help keep your eyes refreshed and infection-free, Cope says remember these three rules:
1. Don’t sleep in your contacts without discussing it with your eye doctor first.
2. Don’t reuse contact solution.
3. Replace your contact lenses as often as recommended by your eye doctor.
It’s important to note that the CDC report only included infections that were reported to the FDA ― and there are likely many more contact lens-related infections that are not reported to the FDA, Cope said.
And there’s also no way of knowing from this report exactly how many of the infections in this report were necessarily caused by the behaviors that are known to put an individual at a higher risk for infection. But Cope added: “The bottom line is that contact lens-related eye infections are often preventable.”
Learn more by watching the video above.
Sarah DiGiulio is The Huffington Post’s sleep reporter. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.