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Can Contacts Cause Dry Eyes?

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For many people, contact lenses are the perfect solution for vision correction. They’re comfortable and convenient and allow for a full range of activities without needing glasses. However, a common complaint for contact lens wearers is dry eye.

Dry eye is a condition that happens when your eyes lack proper lubrication and moisture. It can be uncomfortable, irritating, and even painful. When you’re wearing contact lenses, your eyes can feel especially dry. This can happen due to less oxygen entering the eye, overwearing the lenses, inadequate tear production, environmental factors, or poor contact lens hygiene.

If you’re experiencing chronic dry eye when you wear your contact lenses, visit your optometrist to get a proper fitting and explore you options for lenses that are better suited for your eyes.

How Do Contact Lenses Cause Dry Eyes?

Reduced Oxygen Flow

One common cause of dry eye for contact lens wearers is reduced oxygen flow to the cornea. A properly fitted contact lens covers the cornea to improve your vision. However, the eye can become starved of oxygen. When your eyes don’t receive enough oxygen, it can cause inflammation and deterioration of the tear film, leading to dryness and discomfort.

Contact lens wear heightens your risk of dry eye, leading to symptoms such as:

  • A gritty sensation
  • Stinging or burning
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Blurry vision

If left unaddressed, dry eyes from a lack of oxygen can lead to corneal abrasions or ulcers.

Infrequent Lens Replacement

Many people wear their contact lenses longer than the recommended period, causing a buildup of protein, calcium, and other substances on the lens surface. This accumulation makes it challenging for your eyes to receive essential oxygen and moisture.

Whether you wear contacts with a monthly replacement schedule or daily disposables, your optometrist can provide instructions for proper lens hygiene and care. Daily disposable lenses are popular among patients with dry eye because there’s no need to store them and no risk of deposit buildup on the lenses.

Insufficient Tear Production

When wearing contact lenses, your eyes may not be producing enough quality tears to keep the lenses appropriately lubricated. If meibomian glands that make the tear film’s oil layer become inflamed, this can lead to lower-quality tears and a lack of lasting moisture.

Repeated use of contact lenses on dry eyes can cause friction between the contact lens surface and the eyelid, further irritating the eye.

Environmental Factors

Allergies, weather changes, and pollution can also play a role in the occurrence of dry eye when wearing contact lenses. These environmental factors can make the eyes more prone to dryness and decrease the effectiveness of the tear film, leading to discomfort when wearing contact lenses for prolonged periods.

Improper Contact Lens Care

Improper contact lens care can also lead to dry eye. Failing to clean lenses regularly or mishandling them before wear can cause irritation and difficulty lubricating the eyes.

Close-up side view of a person's left eye as they hold their eye open and apply eye drops

How to Prevent Dry Eye when Wearing Contacts

If your contact lenses are making your eyes dry, there are some steps you can take to manage the condition.

  • Practice eyelid hygiene to keep the meibomian glands clear and functional
  • Use a humidifier at home or at work
  • Blink regularly
  • Stay hydrated
  • Follow the 20-20-20 rule during screen use
  • Use artificial tears

Talk to your optometrist about your dry eye symptoms. They may suggest switching to a different type of contact lens or recommend eye drops or further treatment.

Your optometrist can confirm if your contact lenses fit correctly or not. Lenses that are too tight can cause your eyes to become dry and irritated, while those that are too loose can move around and expose your eyes to air, leading to dryness. Therefore, you may need an updated contact lens fitting.

The Eye Care Team has access to modern diagnostic testing tools to identify the type and severity of your dry eye and can provide in-office treatments for long-term relief from distressing symptoms.

Schedule a Comprehensive Eye Exam in Spokane or Chewelah

Dry eye is a common condition for contact lens wearers, but it is preventable, and you don’t have to live with it. If you’re experiencing persistent dry eye, schedule an eye exam with The Eye Care Team for treatment and advice on how to keep your eyes hydrated.

With adequate care and attention, you can enjoy all the benefits of wearing contact lenses without damaging your eye health or compromising your comfort.

Written by Dr. Daniel Evans

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