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Can Contacts Cause Dry Eye?

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Most of us feel dry eyes at least every once in a while. It could be because of weather conditions or dehydration. But if you wear contact lenses you might wonder if that is the cause. The best way to make sure you’ve got the right lenses to reduce dry eye is getting a contact lens fitting before ordering lenses.

Other factors that can contribute to dry eye, such as digital eye strain or pre-existing eye conditions. Let’s explore how contacts can affect dry eyes and what solutions your optometrist can recommend during an eye exam

What is Dry Eye?

Dry eye disease (DED) is a condition affecting over 16 million American adults today. It occurs when your eyes can’t stay sufficiently moisturized due to inadequate tear production. Tears provide the moisture and nutrients that the eyes need to stay healthy and comfortable. Dry eyes are often characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Burning pain
  • Eye redness
  • Blurry vision
  • Mucus-like residue in eyes
  • Eye fatigue
  • Watery eyes

Causes of Dry Eyes

Many factors can exaggerate the uncomfortable symptoms for someone with chronic dry eye. Although screen time isn’t always the root cause of dry eye disease, long periods on devices certainly don’t help. The root causes of dry eye include:

  • Blepharitis (swollen eyelids)
  • Refractive eye surgery (LASIK)
  • Smoky, windy, or very dry climates
  • Certain medications, including those for allergies, those for heart problems, antidepressants, and diuretics
  • Existing diseases, like thyroid disease and lupus
  • Hormonal changes in women following menopause

How Do Contacts Contribute?

While contact lenses are not typically the root cause of dry eye, they can increase the symptoms. Seeking specialty lenses, which we’ll discuss later, is one way to remedy the discomfort. But another simple process to keep your eyes feeling as comfortable as possible is following proper lens care guidelines.

Follow your optometrist’s and product’s instructions regarding contact lens use. Only wear your lenses for the recommended period and take your lenses out while you sleep. Changing your contacts on schedule will make a difference. So wear weeklies for 1 week, and monthlies for 1 month, don’t try to stretch it out. 

If you use eye drops and also wear contacts, make sure that you select a preservative-free eye drop product. Many preservatives in eye care products dry out contact lenses and can make your dry eye symptoms worse in the end. The same goes for your contact lens solution. Try switching your lens care solution and again, look for preservative-free options.

A female patient trying on new contact lenses at the clinic with the assistance of an optometrist in the background

Dry Eye Contact Lens Options

If you suffer from chronic dry eyes, it’s possible that wearing contacts will make your eyes feel uncomfortable. But recent advancements in the industry have developed some solutions specifically for contact wearers with dry eye. Speak to your optometrist about all the options available and best-suited for your eyes, but some common choices might help.

Scleral Lenses

Most contact lenses rest on the cornea, the clear part of the eye that covers the pupil and iris. Chronic dry eye is one of the reasons that conventional contact lenses may not be right for you. If your dry eye is a product of eye trauma to the cornea, scleral lenses could be the ideal option. 

Scleral lenses have a larger diameter and “vault” design that rests on the sclera instead. Scleral lenses have a tear-filled reservoir that surrounds the cornea. The sensation is often described as therapeutic and relieving for patients with dry eye. 

Silicone-Based Hydrogen Lenses

These types of lenses are designed to reduce water evaporation, which may help with dry eye comfort issues. Some silicone hydrogel lenses contain phosphorylcholine, which is designed to attract water and keep your eyes feeling moist. Ask your eye doctor if there are options that match your prescription with this type of lens material.

Stick to Daily Lenses

If your dry eyes are consistently a problem when wearing contacts, think about sticking to daily lenses. These types of lenses are designed to be discarded after each day’s use. They require virtually no care or cleaning.

As contacts continue to rest on your eyes, they collect proteins that naturally occur on the eye’s surface. This can cause blurry vision and increase the effects of dry eye. Contacts that are worn for longer periods may also collect dust and debris when not cleaned properly. Daily wear lenses eliminate these concerns.

The Bottom Line

Contact lenses won’t usually cause dry eye but they can influence the way dry eye symptoms feel. If you have chronic dry eye or experience painful symptoms when wearing contacts, it’s time to visit your eye doctor. They may recommend specialty lenses best suited for your sensitive eyes. Today’s contact lens technology makes it possible for almost anyone to wear them. Provided you follow wear guidelines and maintain your lenses, there is probably a contact lens option available even if you suffer from dry eye. A contact lens exam and fitting is a vital part of the process that will help you find the right dry eye lenses.

Written by Dr. Aaron Sako

Dr. Sako, who was born in Santa Monica and raised in Cerritos, first joined the La Paz Optometric family in 2001. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in biological sciences in 1995 from the University of California Irvine, before earning his Doctor of Optometry, graduating with honors in 2000 from Nova Southeastern University in South Florida.

Dr. Sako’s current areas of focus are primary care, surgical consultations, surgical co-management, and specialty contact lenses. He is also glaucoma certified and is licensed in the use of therapeutic and diagnostic pharmaceutical agents. Dr. Sako has extensive clinical experience and training, and spent time at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, Florida and the Aker Kasten Cataract and Laser Eye Institute in Boca Raton, Florida, before joining the La Paz Optometric team.

Dr. Sako is an affiliate member of a prominent Orange County laser center, allowing his patients to benefit from his unique understanding of LASIK, which he, himself, has undergone. He has also co-managed thousands of refractive procedures. A proponent of lifelong learning, Dr. Sako is also certified in Corneal Refractive Therapy (CRT), which is a non-surgical option for correcting nearsightedness, which involves patients wearing specialty contact lenses during sleep.

Dr. Sako is a member of the American Optometric Association, the California Optometric Association, the Orange County Optometric Association, the Orange County Optometrist Club, and the Asian American Optometric Society. He is currently a member of the executive board for the Asian American Optometric Society and has been since 2004. He is also a member of the prestigious Advisory Board to Vision Laser Eye Centers in Newport Beach, California.

Dr. Sako believes in the importance of community service and always striving for excellence. This former Eagle Scout is currently an active member of the Mission Viejo Rotary Club and provides charitable annual eye exams and care through this organization to children in Baja, Mexico.

Dr. Sako lives in Ladera Ranch with his wife, Mako, and their three children Skylar, Payton, and Colby. When he is not helping patients, Dr. Sako enjoys exercising, skiing, playing golf, and spending time with friends and family. He also has a keen interest in music, and enjoys playing the Tahitian drums and strumming on his ukulele.

More Articles by Dr. Aaron Sako

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