Pink eye, the more common term for conjunctivitis, is the inflammation or infection of the eyelids. Contact-wearers are at a greater risk of this condition, says MedlinePlus, because of the process involved in inserting and removing contact lenses. Nearly any time an individual rubs the eye or surrounding area, bacteria and viruses have the opportunity to cause infections. Sleeping while wearing contacts and extended-wear contacts can add to the risk of developing conjunctivitis.
The contact lens must be cleaned and handled with clean hands to reduce the chances of introducing harmful agents, including bacteria or viruses, into the eyes. When the lens is put into place, any contaminants on the surface of the contact will enter the eye and reproduce, resulting in conjunctivitis. Sleeping with the contacts in the eyes prolongs exposure.
Conjunctivitis primarily causes redness of the eyelids and in the whites of the eyes. MedlinePlus explains that an individual can wake up with crusted-over eyelids from conjunctivitis. Other common symptoms of pink eye include vision blurring, eye pain, increased tear production, itching, light sensitivity and a sensation that something is in the eye.
When conjunctivitis appears, an individual should obtain medical treatment to get antibiotic eye drops if it's a bacterial infection. Other sources of pink eye can be left to resolve on their own, says MedlinePlus. Self-care, including cool cloth compresses, to relieve symptoms of conjunctivitis may be the best option for most infections. Wearing contacts is not a good idea at this time. Individuals should throw away the contacts that were slept in prior to the appearance of pink eye. MayoClinic.com suggests wearing glasses until eye redness disappears.
Once pink eye has appeared, precautions should be taken to prevent contaminating other contact lenses or the storage case. The case can be cleaned with a water and vinegar solution to kill the bacteria. When possible, the case should be thrown out and replaced with a sterile case. MayoClinic.com suggests washing the hands thoroughly before handling contacts, contact solution, the case or the eyes. Sleeping in contact lenses, even when they're extended-wear, should be avoided if pink eye appears frequently.
Even when pink eye is thought to have been caused by sleeping with contacts, it is still communicable. Simply touching the eye and touching another surface can transmit the bacteria to another individual. Children shouldn't return to school unless a health care professional approves. Sharing eye cosmetics, towels or other facial items that come in contact with the eyes can also spread the infection to others.