Millions of people in the U.S. and around the world enjoy the convenience and freedom from glasses that contact lenses provide. If worn correctly, contacts are safe. If worn incorrectly, however, contact lenses can be dangerous. Wearing contacts longer than they should be worn is one of the riskiest behaviors for wearers, but how long is too long? Let’s check out some frequently asked questions about contact lens wear.

How many hours per day can you safely wear contacts?

Most people can safely and comfortably wear contact lenses for 14 to 16 hours per day. It’s always best to try to remove them as soon as possible before you go to bed at night to give your eyes a chance to breathe without lenses in. Some people, especially those who suffer from chronic dry eye, can only wear their contacts for a few hours a day. If your contacts start to get uncomfortable, take them out earlier in the evening.

How many days in a row can you continuously wear contacts safely?

Sleeping in contact lenses (this is what “extended wear” means) significantly increases the risk of serious eye infections. You should avoid it whenever possible. Some contacts designed to transmit more oxygen to your eye have been FDA approved to sleep in overnight. The risk of complications is still higher when you sleep in them versus removing them every night.

The maximum time that any lens has been approved to wear continuously is 30 days. You should never wear a lens longer than that. If you have to sleep in your lenses, most eye doctors will encourage you to take them out as often as possible, or at least once per week. Be sure you are wearing lenses approved for extended wear.

How often am I supposed to replace old contact lenses with a new pair?

This depends on what type of lens your doctor prescribed for you. Most soft contact lenses fall into one of three categories: daily, biweekly, and monthly disposable. You should replace your old lenses with a new pair according to how long they were designed and approved to last. Your contacts won’t self-destruct or melt away in your eyes if you keep them in an extra day, but they will accumulate deposits and proteins. Over time, this reduces the amount of oxygen that gets through to your eyes. This can make them more prone to infections, blood vessel growth into the eye, and chronic inflammation and redness that can lead to vision loss and contact lens intolerance.

Your contacts won’t necessarily feel uncomfortable or cause blurred vision when it’s time to replace them. It’s easy to forget, so set an alarm on your phone or download a reminder app to help you remember.

How long can you wear contact lenses the first time you wear them?

Wearing contacts for the first time can be an exciting experience, but it takes your eyes some time to get used to having them in. When you first wear contacts, follow the wearing schedule prescribed by your eye doctor. Never continue to wear them if they start to become uncomfortable or cause redness or blurred vision.

How long do contact lenses last in an unopened package?

All contacts will have an expiration date clearly printed on the packaging. A new lens will last about three years before it expires. You should never wear a lens that has expired.

How long does a contact lens last when placed in a case with contact lens solution?

You should never leave a lens soaking in solution for more than a week. If your lenses have been soaking for more than a few days, replace the solution with fresh solution the night before you plan on wearing them again. You should still replace your lenses according to the recommended replacement schedule, even if you don’t wear them every day. For example, a monthly disposable lens should be replaced after 30 days, even if you haven’t worn it every day. If you only wear contact lenses occasionally, you should ask your eye doctor about daily disposables.

What about colored contact lenses that you wear for cosmetics only?

Colored, costume, decorative, and cosmetic contacts have to follow all the same rules and regulations as those worn to correct vision disorders. Any contact lens that goes on your eye is a medical device and should be handled with caution to prevent eye infections that can lead to vision loss.

As a general rule, the more time you give your eyes to rest and breathe without contacts on, the healthier your eyes will be.

Top five tips for healthy contact lens wear:

1. Take your lenses out as early in the evening as possible

2. Avoid sleeping in contacts whenever possible. If you must sleep in them, be sure you are wearing a lens designed for overnight wear.

3. If your eyes are red, irritated, uncomfortable, light sensitive or your vision is blurred, take out your contacts immediately.

4. Don’t wear contact lenses longer than designed.

·       A daily disposable lens should be thrown away every day.

·       A biweekly disposable lens should be thrown away after 14 days.

·       A monthly disposable lens should be thrown away after 30 days.

5. When it comes to contact lens wear, less wearing time is always the healthiest option.

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