What Happens if I Wear My Contacts for Too Long?

close-up shot of young woman wearing or removing contact lens

If you’re like most people who wear contact lenses, you probably enjoy their convenience.

Contact lenses give you a natural field of view and don’t fog up or get in the way like eyeglasses. They’re also easy to put in, even for beginners.

But did you know that wearing contact lenses for too long can be dangerous? In this post, we’ll discuss the dangers of contact lens overwear and how to prevent them.

The Dangers of Prolonged Contact Lens Wear


All contact lenses have recommended wearing and replacement schedules. The former dictates when to remove your contact lenses, while the latter tells you when to discard your current pair and use a fresh one.

Contact lenses come with these recommendations to ensure safety and comfort. If you wear or use your contact lenses for too long, you could increase your risk of various eye problems, some of which can be serious.

Here are some of the most common dangers associated with contact lens overwear:

Bacterial Growth

The longer you wear your contact lenses, the more debris can build up, creating a breeding ground for bacteria and other microorganisms. These microorganisms can then transfer to your eye, leading to an infection.

Corneal Abrasions

When contact lenses are worn for too long, they dry out (this is why your eye may feel itchy or scratchy after a long day of wearing contacts). A dry contact lens can scratch the cornea, making it easier for microorganisms to enter the eye and cause an infection.


Overwearing contact lenses can also decrease the amount of oxygen that reaches the cornea, a condition known as corneal hypoxia. This can cause the cornea to swell, leading to discomfort and impaired vision.

Corneal hypoxia also weakens the ocular immune system, which protects your eyes from infection and regulates healing following injuries.

Contact Lens-Induced Acute Red Eye

Contact lens-induced acute red eye (CLARE) is an inflammatory reaction of the cornea and conjunctiva (the transparent membrane that covers the white part of the eye) associated with contact lens overwear.

CLARE typically occurs when you sleep with contact lenses not approved for overnight or extended wear. When considering contact lens wear, “sleep” can mean anything from a short afternoon nap to a full night’s sleep. The key element here is that the eye is closed for an extended time.

In most cases, CLARE requires no treatment, but it’s recommended that you remove your contact lenses and temporarily discontinue lens wear. But if redness, irritation, or pain persists after 24 hours, you should visit your eye doctor.

Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis

Giant papillary conjunctivitis (GPC) is when the inside of your eyelid gets red and irritated, usually due to contact lens overwear.

GPC is one of the most common acute conditions related to contact lens overwear, and it can happen at any time, even if you’ve worn contacts for many years.

Common GPC symptoms include:

  • Red, painful, and itchy eyes
  • Discomfort when wearing contact lenses
  • Irritation even when you’re not wearing contact lenses
  • Feeling like your contact lens moves up your eyeball when you blink
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Red bumps on the underside of the upper eyelid

How Long Can You Wear Contacts?


Ultimately, how long you can wear contact lenses depends on the type of lens your eye doctor prescribed. Following your eye doctor’s recommendations and the manufacturer’s guidelines for your specific contact lenses is important.

Different types of contact lenses are available, and their wearing schedules vary.

  • DailyDaily disposable contact lenses are soft single-use lenses. Most people can safely wear daily disposable contacts for 14-16 hours per day. But if you have sensitive eyes or eye allergies, you might need to remove your contacts after only a few hours.
  • Bi-weeklyBi-weekly disposable contact lenses are soft contacts you replace every 14 days. Some weeklies are FDA-approved for up to 6 days of extended wear, but they must be replaced after that period.
  • MonthlyMonthly disposable contact lenses are soft contacts you replace every 30 days. Some brands of monthly contacts are FDA-approved for extended wear, but they need to be replaced after the maximum extended wear period.
  • AnnuallyRigid gas-permeable (RGP) contacts are hard, durable lenses that don’t contain water. They provide sharper vision than conventional soft lenses. Most RGP lenses can be worn daily for up to a year before needing replacement.

How to Avoid the Dangers of Contact Lens Overwear

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Contact lens overwear can lead to a variety of eye problems. The good news is that there are steps you can take to avoid the dangers of contact lens overwear.

  • Take out your contact lenses before bed. Removing contact lenses before going to bed is usually recommended because wearing them overnight can increase your risk of eye infections, irritation, and other complications. If you must nap or sleep in them, be sure you are wearing a lens designed for overnight or extended wear.
  • Replace your contact lenses regularly. Wearing contact lenses longer than recommended by your eye doctor or the manufacturer can compromise the lenses and negatively impact your eye health. Remember:
    • A daily disposable contact lens should be thrown away every day.
    • A bi-weekly disposable contact lens intended for daily wear should be discarded after 14 days.
    • A monthly disposable contact lens intended for daily wear should be thrown away after 30 days.
  • Keep your contact lenses clean. Proper cleaning and storage of your contact lenses are essential to prevent infections and other contact lens-related complications. Always wash your hands before handling your contacts or touching your eye.

Wrapping Up

Wearing contact lenses can be a great way to improve your vision and overall quality of life, but it’s essential to be aware of the dangers associated with contact lens overwear and take steps to prevent them.

You can maintain optimal eye health and avoid contact lens-related complications by wearing and replacing your contact lenses as advised by your eye doctor.

This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. If you experience symptoms associated with contact lens overwear or notice any changes in your vision, remove your contact lenses and visit your eye doctor.