Emergency medicine doctors at UNM Hospital are sounding the alarm over a dangerous mistake a lot of people are making with their contact lenses. 

The concern is over the growing number of patients the hospital is seeing in relation to serious and potentially vision altering infections in the eyes of people who sleep with their contact lenses on. 

“We certainly see cases frequently in the emergency room,” said Dr. Justin Baca, an associate professor at UNMH in the Emergency Medicine Department. 

Baca and fellow Doctor Jon Femling recently co-authored a nationally published medical commentary in the January edition of “The Annals of Emergency Medicine,” about the risks for people who sleep with their contacts on. 

The doctor says it’s an “under-recognized problem.” 

“People can get very serious infections in the clear part of the eye, the cornea,” said Dr. Baca. 

The medical commentary Baca co-authored is based on research from the CDC. In August 2018, the CDC published an article titled, “Corneal Infections Associated with Sleeping in Contact Lenses,” which looked at six cases in the United States between 2016 and 2018. 

READ: CDC health study on sleeping w/ contacts >>

In each of the cases, the patients being treated for corneal infections reported wearing their contacts overnight as they slept and for more than one day in a row. 

While the FDA has approved some contact lenses for “extended” wear, Dr. Baca says it doesn’t mean that the practice is without risk. 

“Some contacts are approved for extended use, however, what we know from the research is that anytime you sleep in your lenses, you increase your risk of a contact lens-associated infection,” said Dr. Baca. 

In a news release about the publication, commentary co-author Dr. Jon Femling told UNMH that one of the biggest findings of the CDC study was related to how the eye’s “local environment” changes when a person sleeps with lenses on. 

“You’re not blinking, you’re not protecting yourself the way you normally do. It puts you at risk of injuring that surface of your eye. If you do that for a couple of days, that puts up an area of weakness where the bacteria or amoebas can get in and cause an infection,” wrote Dr. Femling in a UNMH news release. 

Eye infections can require intense treatment, Baca says. 

“Some of those infections can become very serious to the point where people can lose their sight or require some surgery to save their sight,” said Dr. Baca in an interview with KRQE News 13. 

According to the CDC, one-third of contact lens wearers report sleeping or napping in their lenses.