Eye doctor shares graphic photos as warning against sleeping in contact lenses

An eye doctor shared graphic images of a patient's heavily damaged eye to spread awareness about the danger of sleeping in contact lenses.

Dr. Patrick Vollmer, an optometrist from Vita Eye Clinic in Shelby, North Carolina, posted shocking photos of a patient after she slept in contact lenses. The patient was referred to him from a local urgent care, he said.

“Pseudomonas (bacteria) is an important cause of ocular morbidity and its opportunistic characteristics quickly lead to permanent blindness,” Vollmer wrote in a Facebook post. “This will be the 4th case of cultured pseudomonas that I’ve treated in my clinic.”

Vollmer said the bacteria can eat away at a patient's cornea “in a matter of days” and leave a soupy, dead tissue in its wake.

The eye in the images appears green because of fluorescein dye, which is used to stain the areas of the compromised tissue in order to better detect damage.

“The dye pools in areas of corneal compromise, in this case the ulcer bed,” he wrote.

The striking photos were posted on April 28 and have been shared nearly 300,000 times. Vollmer later clarified in the comment section that the patient's eye issue did not take years to form.

“It took about 36 hours, as is characteristic of this strain of bacteria. This patient presented to urgent care on Tuesday afternoon and was noted to have a 'small ulcer.' I examined her the following day with a massive ulcer and vision that was reduced to light perception only,” he wrote.

As an eye doctor, Vollmer said he often hears patients say they sleep in contacts “all the time” without a problem. The post was intended to be a “scare tactic” in hopes of correcting unhealthy behaviors, Vollmer said.

Medical experts say it's becoming increasingly popular for people to wear overnight contact lenses, which has been associated with a “dramatic increase” in cases of microbial keratitis, or an infection of the cornea, for those who are not otherwise predisposed to the condition.

“I was able to start this patient on fortified antibiotic drops around the clock and recently steroids to reduce permanent scarring,” Vollmer said. “While this patient’s eye continues to drastically improve from baseline, she will very likely exhibit some form of residual vision loss even after treatment.”

The doctor said he never recommends sleeping in any brand of soft contact lenses, adding that the risks outweigh the benefits “every time.”

This story was reported from Los Angeles.