Contact lens abuse: Why we do it and the potential dangers

The packages are clear, the warnings are there but contact lens wearers are taking liberties when it comes to the length of wear.

“Sometimes I accidentally drop one and so I change that one but I”ll forget how old the other one is and not change it,” said Josh Brasdshaw. So it can be a little tricky to keep track sometimes.”

Bradshaw started wearing disposable contact lens about three years, “I got to the end of high school and decided to switch to contacts because they game me better viewing.”

According to the website,, 125 million people around the globe wear contacts.

From his office at Queen’s Way Optometric Centre in Mississauga, Dr. Joe Chan said, “There are many that are on the market now, there are some that are designed to be used for a single use, which is put them in, in the morning and out at night and dispose of them right away.”

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But as the saying goes, “therein lies the rub.”

Bradshaw, like so many others, wears his lens longer than the makers suggest.

“The eye doctor warns you pretty extensively that if you do wear them too long they degrade and they scratch your eyes and do all kinds of horrible things. I always figured I could stretch them by a few days as long as I clean them and didn’t feel anything,” he said.

Extending the wear of disposable contact lenses can lead to red, itchy, and sore eyes.

“The main disadvantages of wearing lenses longer than suggested time is the irritation to the eye. If the lenses become coated, they can stimulate a reaction from the eye,” said Dr. Chan, warning users the eye pain can be much more serious. “Corneal ulcers are a very severe form of corneal infection. Typically, they can show up for patients who abuse their contact lenses, if they are not cleaning them properly, perhaps if they are leaving them in overnight when they have been instructed not to.”

The cornea needs oxygen and if it doesn’t get enough, bacteria and infection can form. White blood cells move into the area and, if left untreated, the cornea can be scarred permanently.

Dr. Chan says your best bet to keep your eyes healthy is to stick to recommended wear lengths and follow cleaning instructions. That means never using water. “If you’re going to soak your contact lenses in tap water, it can actually cause the shape of the contact lens to change,” said Chan.

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Lens wearers, such as Bradshaw,  say they know all this but still, “…now and again I find myself without enough of them and you just have to make them last.”


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