Contact Lenses for Dry Eyes


"My contacts make my eyes feel dry," is perhaps the most common complaint eye specialists hear from contact lens wearers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 30 million Americans wear contact lenses. Many individuals prefer contacts to glasses because they are more comfortable and improve your eyesight without altering your look. Typically, you scarcely feel you're wearing them.

However, if you develop a disease known as dry eye syndrome, contact lenses can become uncomfortable or painful. This occurs when your eyes do not generate enough tears or fluid to keep your eyes lubricated and comfortable.

Contact Lenses for Dry Eyes

What is the cause of dry eye syndrome?

Dry eye condition affects about five million Americans, according to the National Eye Institute. Among the possible causes are:

  • Tear gland damage around the eyes
  • Skin injury or illness in the area surrounding the eyes
  • Diseases like Sjogren's syndrome and other autoimmune disorders
  • Pharmaceuticals like antihistamines, some antidepressants, blood pressure meds, and birth control pills
  • Dry eyes can be caused by hormonal changes related to menopause, allergies, and aging eyes.

Dry eyes can also be caused by using contact lenses for extended periods of time. According to research published in Optometry & Vision Science, almost half of contact lens wearers have contact lens-related dry eye.

Dry eyes can produce discomfort, burning, or a gritty sensation as if something is in your eye. Some people have hazy eyesight. Wearing contact lenses might be especially uncomfortable if you have dry eyes.

You do not have to stop using contact lenses if you have dry eyes. Treating the underlying cause of dry eye or switching to a different type of lens might be helpful.

Options for Dry Eyes

Before beginning treatment, your doctor can assist you in determining the cause of your dry eye.

If your eyes aren't generating enough tears, your doctor may advise you to use lubricating eye drops. If the culprit is a drug you're taking, you may need to switch. There is also a treatment to block the drain system in your eyes, allowing more moisture to remain in your eyes. In severe cases, this surgery may be provided.

If the problem is caused by your lenses, you may need to try a different type. Here are a few options.

  • Materials

There are several types of contact lens materials available. Soft contact lenses are comprised of a flexible plastic that enables oxygen into the eye. Rigid gas-permeable contact lenses are comprised of a tougher material, yet they still allow oxygen into the eye.

Soft lenses are comprised of the water-containing hydrogel. There are soft lenses that may be worn for a day and then discarded. Soft lenses for extended use can be reused for up to 30 days.

Consider using a silicone-based hydrogel lens instead. Water does not evaporate as easily through these lenses as it does through others. They may be more effective than normal hydrogel contacts at reducing dry eye.

  • Water content

Soft contact lenses are classified by the amount of water they contain.

High-water-content lenses are more likely to produce dry eyes than low-water-content lenses. They tend to transmit more moisture to the eye at first but might dry up faster.  Although lenses with a high water content are more comfortable on the eye, they absorb more water from the eye. Dry eyes should avoid lenses with high water content. You may need to experiment with various water-content lenses until you discover one that works for you.

  • Change your solutions

Sometimes the issue isn't with your contact lenses, but with the cleaning solution you're using. Some solutions contain preservatives that might irritate and dry up your eyes. The others contain components that may not be compatible with some types of soft contact lenses, causing a response.

Consult your eye doctor. If they suspect that your lens solution is to a fault, experiment with several brands until you discover one that works for you.

  • Consult Your Optometrist

The good news is that there is assistance available if you wear contact lenses and suffer from dry eyes. During a contact lens fitting, your optometrist will be able to assess your lifestyle, visual demands, and dry eye.

And don't be scared to call your optometrist if your existing contact lenses aren't working. They will be able to suggest a different contact lens for you to try.

How to Prevent Dry Eye While Wearing Contact Lenses

We propose the following precautions to avoid eye dryness or inflammation:

  • Make sure you've had your contact lenses fitted by an eye doctor since the eye doctor can establish the precise strength and curvature of the contact lenses you require and prescribe the best lenses for your eyes.
  • Get your eyes checked on a regular basis for visual acuity and overall ocular health. 
  • Purchase high-quality lenses with adequate oxygen permeability. Hyaluronan-containing lenses, particularly silicone hydrogel lenses, are ideal for patients who are prone to dry eyes. Hard lenses are also recommended since they pull relatively little liquid from the tear film.
  • Do not wear contact lenses for a long time until you discover a better solution. If you have dry eyes, you should only wear them for a few hours at a time and only on special occasions, such as going out or playing sports. Wearing contact lenses while watching TV or working on your computer puts strain on your eyes.
  • Depending on your eye doctor's recommendations, dispose of lenses daily, fortnightly, or monthly, or yearly. Contact lens containers should also be replaced every few weeks to avoid germ growth.
  • Wearing contact lenses when sick with a cold or the flu increases the risk of transmitting germs into the eyes. If you have an eye infection, such as conjunctivitis (or pink eye), remove your contact lenses because bacteria can thrive behind them.

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