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What Happens if I Wear My Contacts Too Long?

About three times a week, I treat patients who have developed eye infections due to extended wear contact lenses. Although extended wear lenses are safe, wearing them longer than they are intended is not. Patients often tell me they are trying to save money, and some suspect that eye doctors and contact manufacturers recommend more frequent replacement in order to boost profits. My concern here is only for the wellness of your eyes.

Since I encounter this problem frequently, I present here a graphically accurate (yet PG rated) description of what happens to your eyes when you do not follow the care and replacement schedule for your extended wear contact lenses. Hopefully this information will help my readers prevent permanent damage to their vision, and maintain the overall health of their eyes.

A Closer Look at Your Contact Lenses

Structurally, a contact lens is similar to a kitchen sponge. It is porous, allowing it to absorb and transfer fluids, gasses and debris toward and away from your eye. Like a sponge, your contacts collect and trap various contaminants; however, as your kitchen sponge ages and collects contaminants such as food and grime, you notice that it becomes less absorbent, appears to dry out, and starts to smell as bacteria grows within the pores. All of these indicators let you know when it is time to throw that old sponge away and get a new one out of the package.

Contact lenses age in a similar way, so it is important that they are replaced before they begin to house bacteria. Similar to the kitchen sponge, prolonged use of your contacts results in decreased performance and eventually a severe threat to the health of your eyes.

Remember, whether it be your kitchen sponge or your contact lenses, when you take a new one out of the package, that is as clean as it is ever going to be.

Let Your Eyes Breath

Fresh contact lenses promote two things that are essential for healthy eyes. They allow essential oxygen from the atmosphere to pass through the lens toward the eye. At the same time, mucus and cell waste migrate away from the eye. Over time, external contaminants such as pollutants, smoke, and dust continue to clog the lens’ pores. Meanwhile, natural enzymes, mucus and other biological debris clog the lens’ pores from the inside. As the clogging progresses, your lenses lose porosity and harden, like your old kitchen sponge. When this happens, the transfer of oxygen and waste shuts down and trouble begins.

Oxygen is crucial to the health of your eyes. The cornea is protected by a thin layer of cells. These cells survive on oxygen drawn from the atmosphere. If these cells are deprived of oxygen, they quickly become swollen and weak, and expose the cornea to bacteria. If your lenses are not allowing oxygen in, then they are not letting bacteria out.

The tissue of your eyes sustains itself like any other living tissue. Cells grow and produce more cells. As a result, biological waste is produced. Your clogged contact lenses trap this waste against your eye tissue. The tissue is then literally living in its own filth and becomes an ideal breading ground for bacteria.


Once the cells covering the cornea become weak, they are further damaged by the worn lenses themselves. Clogged and hardened lenses easily damage the weakened cells, separating them from the cornea. The damage can be compounded by any debris trapped behind the lens. Eventually, tiny abrasions or cuts are formed allowing bacteria to directly penetrate the cornea. Infection can occur whenever bacteria is allowed to attach itself to eye tissue. Once bacteria penetrates the cornea, it can eat completely through the tissue in as little as 24 hours. This causes irreversible vision loss and could result in the loss of an eye (or two).

What to Watch For

The most important thing to pay attention to and follow is your contact lenses’ care and replacement schedule. Other than that, your lenses should feel comfortable. Your eyes should look healthy. And as always, your vision should be clear. If you experience any prolonged discomfort, redness, or change in vision, contact your optometrist today.

Dr. Jeff Pinkerton
I care for you.

This Post Has 27 Comments

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  4. Dean Limbert

    Hello–I hope you can help me–I know I have worn my contacts way too long–they are extended wear and I rinsed them daily(or every other)–but I have been out of work for awhile and simply did(do) not have the money to replace them and my glasses got broke awhile ago-I used to wear my glasses for a week between my monthly contacts to give my eyes a break-what my concern is-is when I removed my contacts last-Today to clean them–I noticed the outer layer(cornea?) appears to be grooved where my contacts rest–I have not had any serious issues with them except in the last week or so they haven’t been coming as clean and clear as they had been–so I know they are beyond using–I will not be able replace them this time as it will be between rent& bills and contacts(no contest)–what do I do now?my prescription was 20/200 so I wont be able to drive to look for work and it also wont look so hot trying to hold an application 6 inches from my face just to read it–sorry for rambling–if you could just tell me if I have seriously messed my eyes up i would appreciate it–thanks in advance

    1. Dawn

      Apologies for the delayed reply – just found out that a lot of comments are being routed to the wrong place so I am seeing this for the first time. I hope your situation has improved and that you have been able to address your problem. If not, write back and I’ll respond promptly. Suffice it to say, your vision is priceless. Dr. P

  5. Jessica

    I have a question what if i wear my contacts for longer than a month and dont take them out? What will happen to my eyes? I realize up above it says that ill go blind but is there a way to reverse the up above symptom if its like at the unhealthy eye stage but not bad enough to mess with my vision? But bad enough to wear when i wear the contacts there never truelly focused on my eye? And i took my contact out like 4 days ago and the blood vessils havent retreated yet how can i get them healthy again? And is it safe to wear a new contact at this point or would it make it worse? Thnx all help and answers eill help thnx

    1. Dawn Klingensmith

      Dr. Pinkerton can’t assess the extent of the problem without seeing you, but inflamed blood vessels are a sign of infection. You should see an eye doctor as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment and don’t allow the condition to worsen.

  6. Elizabeth

    I recently started wearing contacts,everything was fine until one day my eyes started to water a lot.i took my contacts out and after that my eyes where so sensitive to light that I could not open my eyes.i took me 2 days to recover.i don’t have glasses to use,so I had to use my contacts again to be able to drive safe.again my corneas got red around so I took my contacts the problem with my contacts or do I just have pink eye?thank you in advance for your help!

    1. Rick Klingensmith

      From Dr. Pinkerton: Anyone who wears contact lenses should have a backup pair of glasses, as contacts aren’t meant to be worn 24/7. Having said that, redness and discomfort are your body’s way of signaling there’s a problem. You should see your eye doctor to get to the bottom of it. Good luck!

  7. Chelle

    I’ve had my contacts in longer than I should. The problem I’m having is when I do take them out to clean and to give my eyes a rest, my eyes feel very uncomfortable without them. Almost as if I have a lash on my eye balls or something under my lids. So irritating that it causes me to rub it. My eyes dry quickly and turns red. HELP??

    1. Rick Klingensmith

      I can’t know for certain what’s going on without an exam; however, when you wear your contact lenses too long, they can damage the front of your eye (cornea). You may also have an ocular surface disease. In either case, contact lenses can sometimes mask the conditions in the beginning, only to allow them to develop over time into a problem that can damage your eyesight. A quick fix likely won’t help. You need to go back to your eye doctor for help with your problem. Good luck, and please report back. (Submitted on behalf of Dr. P.)

  8. Cyanna

    I stayed up all night and wore my contacts for 24 hours straight. I then took my contacts out to go to sleep and when I woke up a lot of white mucus was coming out and my eyes were very red. I’ve been taking some oils and putting them around my eyes like frankincense and others and also drinking oxygen water. When I drink the water the red goes down but after a while it comes back. What’s wrong with my eyes and do you think I’ll be okay?

    1. Rick Klingensmith

      Hi, Cyanna. Hopefully your problems are resolved by now. For the benefit of other people who might read your comment, we’d like to say that redness and mucus (anything out of the ordinary, really) is cause for concern. Also, it’s not a good idea to put oil near your eyes because it won’t flush out easily with water should you accidentally get it in your eyes.

  9. Joan

    I hadn’t worn contacts in a really long time. I had been using my glasses, but even then i dont wear my glasses all the time, but i recently ordered contacts again and tried them after like 5 months. I think i left them in too long, and now the top of my eyes are pretty red, like its not anywhere else but the top. I’m concerned cause i had it on for about 15 hours, and im thinking this might have been a really long time for not having worn them in a while. Plus i was around a lot of smoke for a while. Its only been a day, so im hoping itll go away, but any thoughts?

    1. Rick Klingensmith

      Hi Joan. Your comment is from a year ago, but did the redness in fact go away? If not we hope you sought medical care and that all is well. We had disabled comments for a while because we were overwhelmed by the number of them knowing that Dr. Pinkerton can’t offer specific advice in response other than “see your eye doctor.”

  10. David

    Hi. I have been pretty foolish with my contacts for a few years. At times leaving them in over night, re-using dailies and continually wearing them into the early hours whilst using my computer. This has lead to frequent redness and irritation in my eyes over a prolonged period, albeit no serious more serious symptoms. I’ve noticed that i have developed small blood vessels in my cornea (more pronounced than in the above photo), I’m assuming this is from oxygen starvation? My question is, will these vessels become less prominent in time? Thus far, since using my contacts more carefully, I haven’t noticed a change. The health of my eye and the appearance of what we’re once quite bright white corneas, concerns me. Thanks for your time.

    1. Rick Klingensmith

      Sorry for the late reply, David. This post generates a lot of concerned comments from readers, many of whom seem to have something severe going on requiring medical care. Unfortunately Dr. Pinkerton cannot legally or ethically give case-specific medical advice online. We hope you’ve learned by now what the problem is and for the benefit of other readers we’d appreciate a progress report if you’re so inclined.

  11. Aminn

    I have a question. I know you’re only supposed to use your contacts for two weeks and then use a new pair and blah blah. But I’ve literally been wearing the same pair on and off for a few months now. A couple years ago when I first got contacts and I tried to wear them for a long time they would eventually start hurting and irritating my eyes so I would have to change them. But the pair I’m wearing now don’t hurt or irritate me at all. So is it still bad that I’m wearing the same pair even if it doesn’t hurt or irritate me at all?

    1. Rick Klingensmith

      Sorry for the late reply, but this post generates so many concerned notes from readers that we disabled comments because Dr. Pinkerton is unfortunately unable to help out with medical advice without seeing a patient. But he can say that wearing ANY contacts longer than they are supposed to be worn can lead to trouble, and by the time you experience pain or irritation that trouble has already started!


    Dr. I have a brother that was wearing very old contacts, and fell asleep with them. The next day he woke up he said he lost vision in both eyes. could this be permanent?

    1. Rick Klingensmith

      Your brother’s issue hopefully has been resolved by now. We did want to say that, yes, permanent loss of vision can result. Typically it is preceded by an infection that’s hard to ignore.

  13. meghna sharma

    I have been wearing contact lenses for past three years n i have been wearing them day and night , recently a friend told me about oxygen starved eyes so i got worried and searched it over the internet …bt it only confused me ..although these days i am regularly taking my contact lenses off n cleaning them bt some times i feel irritation on one of the eyes ..nd there are some blood vessels on the whit portion of my eye but i dont kno if they are because of the damages . Please tell me what measures can i take to correct this .

    1. Rick Klingensmith

      Sorry for the late reply. This post generates a lot of concerned comments from readers, but unfortunately Dr. Pinkerton cannot give proper medical advice online, without seeing a patient. If you haven’t already seen your eye doctor, he urges you to do so without delay.

  14. Steven

    Can not changing your contacts for weeks at a time also be what is making me sick all the time, or do these two types of bacteria not relate?

    1. Rick Klingensmith

      From Dr. Pinkerton: Hi, Steven. While I can’t say for certain what’s going on in your case, what typically happens is the opposite – an infection starts in the body and spreads to the eyes (by coughing into your hand and then rubbing your eyes for example).

  15. Nika

    I just recently changes my pair of contacts, and I’ve never had a problem with them, I’ve bean wearing monthlys and changed them a few days ago. Tonight, when I was taking mine out, I notices that there were bumps on my eye. My eyes were redish and there were little bumps around the cornea. Is this something I should be worried about? Please respond asap, thank you

    1. Rick Klingensmith

      Sorry for the late reply. This post generates a lot of concerned comments from readers, but unfortunately Dr. Pinkerton cannot give proper medical advice online, without seeing a patient. If you haven’t already seen your eye doctor, he urges you to do so without delay.

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