Contact lenses can cause many complications in their wearers. User error causes some of these complications, like not cleaning the lenses properly or not replacing them often enough. Other complications are caused by the presence of a foreign body, the contact lens, on the surface of the eye. Corneal edema falls under the latter category. Here's what you need to know about this painful complication of contact lens wear.
What is corneal edema?
Your cornea is the clear tissue that covers both your pupil and your iris. Its role is to focus the light that enters your eye, which makes it an essential part of your vision. Like any other part of your body, your corneas can become swollen. Swelling in your corneas is a big deal because this swelling leads to problems like blurred or distorted vision, and if it's not treated, the cells of your cornea can be permanently damaged by the swelling.
How do contact lenses cause it?
Your corneas don't have veins, so they need to get oxygen a little differently than other tissues in your body do. Instead of getting oxygen from blood, they absorb it from the air and from your tears. When you wear contact lenses, your corneas can't absorb as much oxygen, even when your eyes are open. This lack of oxygen damages the cells that make up your cornea, which leads to swelling.
How do you know you have corneal edema?
Corneal edema leads to many unpleasant symptoms like pain and redness in the eye, blurred or distorted vision and discomfort when you are in a well-lit room. If you notice these symptoms, take your contact lenses out and see your optometrist right away. Your optometrist will look at your cornea through a slit lamp, a special microscope that allows them to get a good look at the front sections of your eye, to diagnose the condition.
Can optometrists treat it?
Corneal edema is treated with corticosteroids. This medication comes in the form of either eye drops or gel, and it works by reducing the swelling in your eye. Your optometrist may also recommend taking over-the-counter painkillers like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to help you handle the eye pain. Prescription painkillers may also be needed in more severe cases. You'll need to stop wearing your contact lenses until your eyes have healed, and your optometrist has given you permission to start using them again.
It's important to seek treatment as soon as you notice symptoms because the swelling in your cornea can cause permanent damage to your cells. This damage will leave you with partial or total vision loss, and to restore your vision, you may need to get a corneal transplant. During this procedure, a donor cornea will be sewn onto your eye.
Can you prevent it?
Studies have shown that mild corneal edema can develop after as little as two hours of contact lens wear, so try to wear your contact lenses for the shortest possible amount of time to reduce the damage to your corneas. You may want to save your contact lenses for exercising or for special occasions, and stick to your glasses the rest of the time. If you want to keep wearing your lenses every day, make sure to take them out at night. Taking your contact lenses out when you go to sleep, or even just lie down for a nap, is very important since it gives your corneas a chance to absorb oxygen and heal themselves.
Corneal edema is a potentially serious complication of contact lens wear. If you wear your contact lenses for long periods of time, stay alert for signs of this complication, and if you notice them, see your optometrist or a place like Granville Mall Optical right away. Getting prompt treatment can save your vision.