The Benefits and Concerns of Extended Wear Contact Lenses
Contact lens wearers can choose from two regimens: daily wear or extended wear. For people who have difficulty inserting and removing their contact lenses, the extended wear option is ideal. Extended wear contact lenses are designed to be worn continuously for up to 30 days, including overnight. This allows wearers to wake up in the morning with clear vision.
In the early days of extended wear contact lenses, some eye professionals had concerns about the increased incidence of eye infections, including conjunctivitis, corneal infections, and corneal ulcers, among patients who wore contact lenses continuously for over 7 days. For that reason, the FDA was initially reluctant to approve contact lenses for more than 7 days of continuous wear. The increase in eye infection resulted from bacteria that thrived in the warm, moist conditions that existed under the contact lens. The lens prevented oxygen reaching the eye ball, reducing the eye’s natural ability to fight off infection.
Advances in technology mean that extended wear lenses are now made from semi-permeable material, such as silicon hydrogel, which lets more oxygen through to the eye ball. Typically, these new materials allow up to 6 times more oxygen to reach the eye ball than traditional soft contact lenses. This reduces the potential for eye infections. Accordingly, the FDA now approves some contact lenses for continuous wear of up to 30 days.
However, even with advances in the materials from which contact lenses are manufactured, wearing extended wear contact lenses carries more health risks than daily contact lenses. It is essential that wearers of extended wear lenses discard their contact lenses at the end of the recommended period. Not all extended wear contact lenses are designed to be worn for 30 days. Some are designed for 7-day wear and some for 14-day wear. If wearers try to clean and re-use them, there is significant potential for infection of the eye, including conjunctivitis, corneal infections and corneal ulcers, because it is almost impossible to ensure that all the proteins and lipids that adhere to the lens are washed away, no matter how thorough the cleaning regime.
Exposure to certain pollutants and irritants may mean that extended wear contact lenses need to be disposed of before the end of the extended wear period. For example, if they are worn while the wearer is swimming or if the wearer is exposed to cigarette smoke. These irritants can get under the lens and cause an infection to take hold.
Wearers should check the condition of their eyes every day to ensure that they look bright and healthy. The individual is the best judge of his eye health, as he can pick up quickly on any changes that he notices, provided he carries out a regular self-assessment. If a wearer notices that one or both of his eyes are red or there is a reduction in his vision, he should contact his eye doctor immediately.
Although extended wear contact lenses can be worn for up to 30 days continuously, many wearers choose a more flexible schedule. In day-to-day living, they may remove their contact lenses overnight, when they have the opportunity to clean and store them correctly. However, extended wear contact lenses give them more flexibility when they find themselves in situations with restricted access to their normal contact lens cleaning solutions, for example if they are camping.
Extended wear contact lenses may be a little more expensive than regular contact lenses. However, for many contact lens wearers, the benefits of being able to wake up with perfect vision and the flexibility that extended wear contact lenses allow outweigh the extra cost.
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