Dry eye syndrome (DES) is among the top reasons most people don’t qualify as contact lens candidates. Medically known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), this condition occurs when the eyes don’t make enough tears.
Dry eye syndrome is a common problem that affects millions of people past the age of 50. But there are other risk factors, including allergic eye disease, vitamin A deficiency and rheumatoid arthritis. Symptoms of dry eyes are also common among otherwise healthy contact lens wearers. This condition is known as contact lens-induced dry eyes and makes contact wearing extremely uncomfortable.
It’s often said that contact lenses and dry eyes don’t go hand in hand. Sure, it’s challenging to wear contact lenses with dry eyes. But there are lots of ways of mitigating this problem. In this post, we’ll go in-depth on contact lens-induced dry eyes and what you can do about it.
How Contact Lenses Cause Dry Eyes
Contact lenses cause dry eyes because of where they are worn- directly on top of the cornea. The cornea is the only part of the body without blood vessels. And that’s important to ensure that the front part of the eye is transparent enough to let the light shine through. But that also means the cornea gets oxygen directly from the atmosphere through the tear film.
Because contact lenses sit on top of the tear film, they effectively cut the amount of oxygen that reaches your eyes. FDA-approved contact lenses are designed to allow oxygen to pass through. But even then, contact lenses are a barrier to adequate oxygen transportation and will cause or exacerbate symptoms of dry eyes, especially when worn for a long period.
The other way contact lenses cause dry eyes comes down to their construction material. Most traditional contact lenses are made of hydrogel because it’s breathable. Unfortunately, this material is not easily wettable. This causes instability in the tear film, making for an uncomfortably dry contact lens wearing experience.
That said, it’s important to acknowledge that silicone-based hydrogel contact lenses have undergone tremendous improvements recently to boost their wettability. If you wore contact lenses five-to-ten years ago but had to pull out due to contact lens-induced dry eyes, the market probably has much better models than what you may have used then.
Symptoms of Contact Lens-Induced Dry Eyes
- Stinging or burning sensation
- Grittiness or itchiness
- Red eyes
- Eye fatigue
- Light sensitivity
- Watery eyes
- Blurred vision
Tips and Tricks for Managing Contact lens-Induced Dry Eyes
Switch to Daily Disposable Lenses
Most eye doctors recommend daily disposables for dry eyes because they are single-use. In other words, you pop in a pair in the morning, spend the entire day in it and then throw it in the trash in the evening. Because you’re not reusing the lenses, you eliminate the issue of protein and dust buildup, which is the major cause of wettability issues in contact lenses.
Speaking of disposable, Alcon Dailies Total 1 has several unique technologies that make them a favorite with contact wearers with dry eyes. One of them is Water Gradient Technology, which ensures that the lens’s surface remains moisturized throughout the day.
Besides creating a gentle cushion, this water surface promotes oxygen transmissibility at 156 Dk/t. This is, by far, the highest oxygen permeability of any daily disposable lens and means a lot for contact wearers suffering from dry eyes.
Consider Low Water Contact Lenses
While high-water contact lenses are the best for some wearers, some people are better off with low-water content lenses. If you’re already suffering from dry eye syndrome, lenses with a high water content may draw out more of your natural tears, making the issue worse. In that case, it’s important to ask your eye doctor whether low water content contact lenses may be preferable.
Avoid Overwearing Your Contacts
Stretching your contact lenses’ wearing schedule may seem a clever way to save money and time. But it’s not. Overwearing your contacts only increases your chances of developing various eye complications, including dry eyes syndrome, corneal neovascularization (growth of blood cells in the cornea), Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis (acute allergic inflammation) and contact lens acute red eye.
The main issue with contact lens overwear is decreasing the amount of oxygen that gets into the eye from the atmosphere. Even if you clean your daily wear lenses faithfully or wear a fresh pair of dailies every morning, contact lens overuse leads to protein deposits and bacteria and allergens buildup over time. Eventually, this buildup leads to issues of dryness, grittiness and eye irritation.
Always Wash Your Hands Before Touching Your Contacts
Sometimes your lenses are not to blame for your dry eye symptoms. How you handle them also says a lot.
Contrary to most myths, contact lenses don’t cause eye infections in and of themselves. Most contact lens-related problems are caused by failure to adhere to healthy habits and instructions:
- Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and dry them before touching contact lenses.
- Never use anything else other than the recommended cleaning solution to clean your contacts.
- Do not use your saliva (spit) to rewet your contact lenses.
- Always remove your contact lenses before going to bed.
- Adhere to the manufacturer’s recommended wear time instead of overusing your contacts.
- Have a habit of using the recommended rewetting drops even if your eyes don’t feel dry.
- Let your eyes breathe for some time, even if you’re using extended-wear contacts.
Consider Sclera Lenses
If you’ve tried these tips for dealing with dry eyes, but the issue persists, perhaps soft lenses are not meant for you. But that’s why the manufacturers have scleral lenses. Scleral lenses are large-diameter lenses designed to rest on the sclera.
These rigid gas permeable lenses have a unique dome shape that vaults over the cornea. This space is filled with isotonic fluid that keeps the eyes moist throughout the wearing period. By vaulting over the cornea, Sclera lenses are less likely to irritate. Actually, they are the most recommended for dry eye sufferers because they correct vision while providing therapeutic benefits through lubrication.