This Is What Happens When You Don't Clean Your Contact Lenses

Contact lenses are a medical marvel. Wearing them can help you see better, save you money, and keep you from having to wear glasses. However, they need to be regularly cleaned. Whether you typically head straight to bed while still wearing your contacts or you simply forget to take them out occasionally, failing to properly care for your contacts can lead to serious problems.

The rules for cleaning contact lenses are simple: soak the lenses daily in fresh solution (never combine used and new solution), read the directions on the box to learn when to swap out your worn lenses for a new pair, and follow good contact lens practices, such as removing them before sleeping (via American Academy of Ophthalmology). However, with 45 million Americans wearing contact lenses, surely some do not follow these rules. Don't let one of them be you — unless you want to face some pretty unfortunate consequences.

Eye infections from dirty contact lenses

According to Men's Journal, your chances of an infection increase with simple mistakes, like sleeping and taking showers with your contact lenses. However, even Dr. Thomas Steinemann, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, says that it's tough to fully prevent an infection. "No matter how carefully you disinfect your lenses, they still get coated with bacteria and your body's proteins," he told the site. "Then dirty lenses sit on the eyes, which can set up an infection on the cornea. When an infection gets started, it's very, very hard to eradicate."

Not all infections are created equal. They can start from viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungus, which all have different treatments (via MedBroadcast). Some symptoms of eye infections include redness, swelling, blurry vision, goop near your eye, eye pain, itching, or burning. If these occur, stop wearing your contact lenses and see an eye doctor straight away.

Not cleaning your contact lenses may lead to blindness

The CDC asserts, "Serious eye infections that can lead to blindness affect up to 1 out of every 500 contact lens users per year." While rare, people who don't clean their contact lenses can develop fungal infections that result in blindness, according to WebMD.

Still not convinced? In a 2018 report, six people were studied after contact lenses caused serious problems with their vision. Even after long antibiotic treatments, some of the affected lost vision and two required cornea transplants. Each person slept in their contact lenses, making properly cleaning the lenses impossible. One man even kept his contact lenses in for two straight weeks. As the study asserts, "He did not disinfect his lenses daily, slept in them on a regular basis, and did not replace them regularly."

The bottom line? Always follow a cleaning routine for your contact lenses — no matter what. When it's your vision on the line, this is truly one area of your health in which you don't want to cut corners. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends not overusing your lenses, using store-bought contact solution, and thoroughly washing your hands before touching your contact lenses.