For patients who are new to contact lens wear, it can be difficult to know how to safely wear their lenses. How long you can safely wear your contact lenses depends on the type of contact lenses you have been prescribed.
Soft lenses are the most popular type of contact lenses worn in the U.S. Three types of soft lenses include:
Daily Wear: Daily wear lenses are worn during the day and removed each night for cleaning. A single pair can be worn repeatedly, and their length of use varies according to the manufacturer.
Disposable: Daily disposable lenses can be worn during the day and discarded at night. Or programmed-replacement disposable lenses are worn and removed daily, but the lenses are replaced every two to four weeks.
Extended Wear: Extended wear lenses are worn continuously for one to four weeks before the lenses are removed and replaced.
Although some contacts are made to be worn for an extended period of time, it’s important to understand that the risk of eye infection increases the longer you keep a single pair of contact lenses in your eyes.
Contact lenses that are worn too long can lead to the following conditions:
- Corneal ulcers (infectious keratitis): An open sore in the outer layer of the cornea
- Hypoxia – A lack of oxygen that can lead to abnormal blood vessel growth into the cornea
- Damage to corneal stem cells needed to keep the cornea clear for good vision
- Chronic inflammation that can lead to contact lens intolerance
Contact Lens Safety Tips
Contact lenses are a healthy vision correction option for most patients and are relatively easy to use when handled properly. To reduce your risk of infection, consider the following safety tips:
- Always wash your hands with soap and dry them with a lint-free towel before picking up lenses
- Clean, rinse and disinfect lenses when you remove them, following the instructions on the product label
- Only cleanse lenses with commercially prepared, sterile contact lens solution. Do not use water on lenses because it can be a source of microorganisms
- Don’t wear contact lenses overnight unless your doctor has prescribed them to be worn that way
- Regularly clean your contact lens storage case and replace as directed by your doctor
- Never wear contacts after they have expired
- Report any eye irritations and infections to your eye doctor