Keratitis and the Dangers of Overwearing Your Contacts

Is it really dangerous to wear contact lenses longer than recommended?

What is keratitis?

Keratitis is an inflammation of the clear, front surface of the eye called the cornea. Keratitis can cause symptoms such as redness, pain, light sensitivity, a scratchy or gritty feeling, blurred or hazy vision and watering. Keratitis can be caused by infection from bacteria, viruses or fungus and is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States.

Keratitis can affect anyone, even if they don’t wear contact lenses, but it often results from improper contact lens wear. People who don’t clean or replace their contact lenses as directed, and people who sleep in contact lenses are much more susceptible to episodes of keratitis. Keratitis is also more common in people who wear lenses that have not been properly fitted to their eye, such as decorative costume lenses.

What to do if you’re experiencing the symptoms

Early treatment of keratitis is critical in minimizing the risk of permanent damage to the eye that could cause vision loss. If you experience any of the symptoms of keratitis, be sure to remove your contact lenses immediately and get in to see an eye doctor (an optometrist or ophthalmologist) as soon as possible. Your eye doctor will use a high-powered microscope to examine your eye, and may need to put colored dye into your eye to better visualize the corneal tissue. Primary care doctors or urgent treatment centers often do not have the specialized equipment or training needed to diagnose keratitis, so it is important to see an eye doctor.

Depending on the nature and cause of the keratitis, your eye doctor will prescribe eye drops, and sometimes oral medications to help heal your eye. These medications may include antibiotics, antivirals or steroids, as well as medications to help control the pain. Since keratitis can be so threatening to vision, careful monitoring of the healing is often required.

Many people are guilty of improperly wearing contact lenses, and often feel like there is no risk in over wearing their lenses. Any patient who has experienced an episode of keratitis can vouch for the fact that the risk is very real.

Updated Oct 19th, 2016

Clay Mattson thumbnailClay Mattson, O.D. has been practicing optometry at EyeMax in Nicholasville and Lexington, KY since 2000. Dr. Mattson also serves as a consultant, lecturer, author and advisor to the eye care industry and to other eye doctors.

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