It’s pretty scary that certain seemingly NBD habits can actually wreak havoc on your eye health. Preventable eye injuries are the perfect example of this. Here are some of the most common preventable eye injuries eye doctors wish they could shout from the rooftops.
1. Sleeping in your contacts can lead to part of your eye ripping off.
“By far, the number one cause for eye injuries that could have been prevented [is] people overwearing their contact lenses,” JP Maszczak, O.D., assistant professor of clinical optometry at the Ohio State University College of Optometry, tells SELF. That includes the classic contact lens mistake of sleeping in them.
When you sleep, you’re obviously not blinking. Blinking is essential because it helps you disperse basal tears over your eye, including your cornea (that clear, protective outer layer of your eye that a contact lens covers), according to the National Eye Institute (NEI). Basal tears keep your eyes nice and wet.
Sleeping in contact lenses, on the other hand, will suck moisture from your eyes, Carolyn M. Duong, O.D., an optometrist at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, tells SELF.
(This is true even if your lenses are approved for overnight use, the American Optometric Association (AOA) says.)
“When you sleep in your contacts and your eyes get really dry, you can rip part of your cornea off when you try to remove your contacts,” Dr. Duong says. This is especially likely if you have the health condition dry eye, which basically means your eyes are always dehydrated.
If this kind of injury happens to you, you might need antibiotics to prevent infection, or your doctor may actually need to patch up the tear on your eye, Dr. Duong says. Just avoid it and pop out your contacts before bed.
2. Sleeping in your contacts can also give you eye ulcers.
Oh, you thought the fun stopped at ripping off part of your eyeball? Cute. Actually, sleeping in your contacts (or misusing them in other ways, like not cleaning them properly) can lead to corneal inflammation called keratitis as a result of reduced oxygen flow, Dr. Maszczak says. If not treated quickly enough, keratitis can spiral into a corneal ulcer, or open sore on the front of your eye.
As you can imagine, a corneal ulcer doesn’t feel like you’re eating bonbons while lying around in a bed made of clouds. Having one can cause pain, excessive tearing, itching, discharge, blurry or hazy vision, bloodshot eyes, and sensitivity to light, the U.S. National Library of Medicine says. It’s not pretty.
If you develop a corneal ulcer from contacts, your doctor will recommend that you stop wearing your lenses until you heal, but you may not need any other treatment, according to the Mayo Clinic. It depends on whether the original keratitis was from the contact overuse itself or because your contact lens was contaminated with something like bacteria, in which case you could need antibacterial eye drops to fend off any pathogens.
3. Ignoring the fact that you have dry eye can leave you with dry and scratched eyes.
Letting a more severe case of dry eye go untreated can make you develop little injury-induced scratches on your cornea, Vatinee Bunya, M.D., co-director of the Penn Dry Eye & Ocular Surface Center, tells SELF. These are known as corneal abrasions. They can happen with dry eye if your eyes are sapped of moisture and you try to do something simple like take out your contacts, Dr. Bunya says. If you’re treating your dry eye properly using methods like artificial tears, your well-lubricated eyes aren’t as prone to this type of injury.
A corneal abrasion can cause pain, a gritty feeling in your eye, tearing, redness, sensitivity to light, and headaches, the Mayo Clinic says. Although this kind of injury typically heals on its own in a day or two, you should still see an eye doctor to prevent an infection and ulcers, the Mayo Clinic says.
4. Not wearing safety goggles in certain situations can lead to serious debris-related eye injuries.
Racquetball. Mowing the lawn. Installing that amazing new shelving unit you found on sale. All of these activities (and many more) can send tiny objects flying through the air before slamming into your eyeballs, Dr. Duong says.
This is why you should always wear protective glasses (ideally with side shields, you should be able to find some at your local home improvement stores) when you’re doing home repairs. That’s especially true for anything that involves nails, drilling, or wood or metal work, because…ow.
Activities like mowing the lawn warrant protective eyewear, too, as do sports that involve balls or other things flying at your face. (You should look for special eyewear made for the sport in question.) If you feel weird wearing protective eyewear on the tennis court, just pretend you’re starting a new trend. Scrunchies are back in style. Anything is possible.
5. Not wearing sunglasses puts you at risk for a sunburn…on your eyeballs.
Your eyes, like your skin, can get sunburned when they’re exposed to too much sunlight. This is called ultraviolet keratitis, and it can damage your cornea and conjunctiva (the clear, thin membrane that covers part of the front surface of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelids), according to the Cleveland Clinic. This isn’t just a summertime concern, Dr. Duong says. Even when it’s cloudy or overcast, glare from snow, ice, sand, and water can still burn your eyes.
This can result in symptoms like burning eyes, blurry vision, swelling, and even a temporary loss of vision, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Luckily, your eyes should heal on their own if this happens to you, although self-care methods like putting a cold washcloth over your eyes and taking pain relievers may help in the meantime, the Cleveland Clinic says. If you’re still dealing with pain or reduced vision after two days, see your doctor to make sure you don’t have an infection.
And to avoid ultraviolet keratitis altogether, when you’re heading outside, you should wear sunglasses that block or absorb 99 to 100 percent of UV light, the Cleveland Clinic says. Ideally, they’ll wrap around or have side panels for full protection. When you feel like going without them, remind yourself that making it to the eye doctor for your regularly scheduled appointments can be tough—rushing there because your eyes got sunburned isn’t going to be better.