As technology improves the materials and designs of contact lenses, wearers benefit from greater flexibility and more choices. Increasingly, you can choose contact lenses that fit into your lifestyle. These include extended wear contact lenses, which can be kept in your eyes on a longer basis, even while you sleep.
How do you know if extended wear contact lenses make sense for you? Let's explore extended wear contact lenses and what to consider about whether they're right for you.
What are extended wear contact lenses?
Extended wear contact lenses are, most typically, contact lenses that can be worn continuously for up to six nights and seven days. With the advent of silicone hydrogel lenses, which are better at letting oxygen through the lens to your eyes, there are now also continuous wear contact lenses that can be worn up to 30 days straight.
The main criterion for an extended wear contact lens is oxygen permeability. While you sleep, the only way for your cornea to get the oxygen it needs to stay healthy is from the blood vessels in your eyelids.
Should I wear extended wear contact lenses?
While new lens materials, particularly silicone hydrogels, allow more oxygen to pass through, all lenses block some flow. Here are some considerations on whether extended wear contact lenses are net benefit for you.
Benefits of extended wear contact lenses
Extended wear contact lenses can be really helpful for:
People with unpredictable or highly active lifestyles
Military personnel or outdoor enthusiasts, who aren't always able to properly clean or handle their lenses, benefit from extended wear contact lenses that can be left in for long periods. This is also true for emergency and shift workers.
People with binocular vision abnormalities
Some problems with binocular vision, including amblyopia, are better addressed with continuous vision correction.
People with especially bad vision
Some wearers with high refractive errors (near- or farsightedness or astigmatism) find it extremely helpful to be able to see clearly at all times, especially when waking up unexpectedly at night.
Risks and other considerations
The biggest risk of extended wear contact lenses is infection, which can lead to blindness. Other risks include corneal neovascularisation (where the blood vessels in your eye grow toward your iris in an attempt to address a desperate need for oxygen), inflammation and irritation.
Here are some ways that these risks can be reduced:
- When possible, remove even extended wear contact lenses before sleeping.
- Remove contact lenses before swimming, or clean them after swimming.
- Avoid handling your lenses without washing your hands.
- Avoid smoke and other poor air conditions.
- Don't wear expired contact lenses.
- Follow all of your optician's and contact lens manufacturer's instructions.
What are the best extended wear contact lenses for me?
How long you can leave your contact lenses in depends on two things: lens type, and your optician's evaluation of your eyes' tolerance for overnight wear.
It's extremely critical to weigh the pros and cons of extended wear contact lenses together with your optician, who will also keep an eye on the adjustment period to make sure the lenses are appropriate for you.
Anytime your eyes are irritated, red or not seeing well, take your contact lenses out. Finally, always chat with your optician about any changes or problems, especially when starting new contact lenses.