Dry Eyes: Are Your Contact Lenses to Blame?

March 22, 2024

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Do contact lenses cause dry eyes?

Contact lenses CAN aggravate dry eyes but are not the cause. It’s a common misconception but let me shed some light on the topic.

Having dry eye syndrome (DES) is pretty common, whether you wear contact lenses or not. But if you’re a contact lens wearer, the symptoms can be worse and more uncomfortable.

I’m Damon Ezekiel, the owner and principal optometrist of Ezekiel Eyes. I’ve been in the field for over three decades, helping people see clearly and comfortably. One thing I’ve noticed is that many people attribute their dry eyes solely to wearing contact lenses. While contacts can exacerbate the symptoms, we need to look at the root cause.

Understanding and addressing the real source of dry eyes can be transformative. It can allow you to live a “glasses-free” lifestyle without the discomfort and inconvenience of constantly dealing with dry, scratchy eyeballs. But persisting with incorrectly chosen contact lenses while experiencing dry eyes can have long-term consequences.

Let me tell you about a patient of mine, a mother of three kids, in Perth. She had been wearing contact lenses for years and started experiencing dry, irritated eyes. She assumed it was just a normal hazard of wearing contacts and tried over-the-counter eye drops to alleviate the discomfort. However, the symptoms persisted, and she began to worry about the health of her eyes.

When the patient came to see me, we discussed her symptoms in detail, and I conducted a thorough examination. It turned out that her contact lenses were not suitable for her eyes, exacerbating her dry eye condition. We worked together to find the right type of lenses and adjusted her wearing schedule. Over time, the woman’s symptoms improved significantly, and she could enjoy clear vision without discomfort.

If you’re experiencing dry eyes while wearing contact lenses, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with myself or my colleague, Rhiannon Richer. We’re here to help you find the right solution for your eyes, whether it’s adjusting your contact lens type or exploring other options.

Or, if you’re curious to learn more about the connection between dry eyes and correct contact lens use, keep reading. We’ll delve deeper into this topic to help you better understand how to keep your eyes healthy and comfortable.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Contact lenses can absorb tears and exacerbate dryness in individuals with Dry Eye Syndrome (DES), making it important to consider lens type and eye health.
  • Symptoms of Contact Lens-Induced Dry Eye (CLIDE) include redness, irritation, a gritty sensation, and discomfort, necessitating adjustments in lens choice or care routine for relief.
  • Advances in contact lens technology, such as silicone hydrogel materials and moisture-retaining coatings, along with proper hygiene and eye care practices, can significantly improve comfort for dry eye sufferers.

Understanding Dry Eye Syndrome and Its Connection to Contact Lenses

Dry Eye Syndrome (DES) affects millions worldwide. It’s when your eyes don’t produce enough tears or the right quality of tears to stay moist. This can cause irritation, redness, and a gritty sensation.

The connection between DES and contact lenses is pretty straightforward. Your tears are supposed to form a thin film that protects and lubricates your eyes. When you wear contact lenses, they soak up some of these tears, which can upset this balance. Especially if your eyes are already struggling to produce enough tears, contact lenses can make the dryness and discomfort worse.

Contact lenses can be a bit like wearing a small sponge on your eye. They need moisture to stay soft and comfortable. If your eyes are dry, the lenses might start to absorb tears from the eye’s surface, leading to even less moisture. This can turn into a cycle of discomfort if not managed properly.

As an optometrist, I always recommend that my patients with DES or those experiencing discomfort with their lenses come in for a consultation. We can explore different types of lenses that might be more comfortable or discuss other treatments to manage your dry eyes. Remember, you don’t need to give up the convenience of contacts but you do need to find a way to wear them comfortably.

 

Can we blame contact lenses for dry eyes?

Identifying Symptoms of Contact Lens-Induced Dry Eye (CLIDE)

Why do your eyes feel like a desert landscape after a long day wearing contact lenses? The answer often points towards Contact Lens-Induced Dry Eye (CLIDE). It’s a sign your eyes are struggling to maintain their natural moisture balance with contact lenses in place.

CLIDE can cause reduced tear production or poor tear quality due to factors such as decreased oxygen flow to the cornea, which can occur when wearing contact lenses for extended periods, leading to disruption of the normal tear film and evaporation of tears, resulting in dryness and discomfort. Additionally, contact lenses can interfere with the natural blinking mechanism, essential for distributing tears across the eye’s surface, further contributing to tear film instability and dry eye symptoms.

  • Redness or irritation in the eyes: This redness may occur more frequently or persistently in individuals who wear contact lenses, making it uncomfortable to wear them for extended periods.
  • Feeling like there’s something in your eye: This sensation can be bothersome and lead to frequent blinking or rubbing of the eyes, which can exacerbate discomfort and potentially increase the risk of eye infections.
  • Blurred or fluctuating vision: This blurriness can occur due to irregular tear film distribution over the surface of the eye, leading to compromised visual clarity.
  • Eye discomfort or pain: These symptoms can interfere with daily activities and may worsen with prolonged contact lens wear.
  • Sensitivity to light: People with CLIDE may experience heightened sensitivity to light, a condition known as photophobia. This sensitivity can cause pain when exposed to sunlight or artificial indoor lighting, making it challenging to perform tasks or participate in outdoor activities comfortably.
  • Excessive tearing or watery eyes: Paradoxically, individuals with CLIDE may experience excessive tearing or watery eyes as a result of the eyes’ attempt to compensate for dryness. This excessive tearing, known as reflex tearing, can lead to the misconception that the eyes are adequately lubricated when, in fact, the tears are not providing sufficient relief.
  • Gritty sensation in the eyes: This sensation can be persistent and uncomfortable, like having a grain of sand or piece of dirt stuck in your eye.
  • Difficulty wearing contact lenses for extended periods: One of the hallmark symptoms of CLIDE is difficulty wearing contact lenses for extended periods without discomfort. Individuals with CLIDE may find that their lenses become increasingly uncomfortable as the day progresses.

At Ezekiel Eyes to obtain a clearer picture of what’s going on, we often use the Ocular Surface Disease Index (OSDI). This tool helps us quantify just how severe your dry eye symptoms are. Through a series of questions, it evaluates the frequency and intensity of your symptoms, their impact on your ability to perform daily activities, and how your eyes feel in different environments. It’s a questionnaire about your discomfort, guiding us towards the best treatment plan.

Understanding these symptoms and using diagnostic tools like the OSDI, we can tailor a strategy to combat CLIDE. Whether it’s switching to a different type of contact lens, adjusting your wearing schedule, introducing eye drops into your routine or introducing some techniques to make your eyes wetter there are ways to bring relief without giving up on contact lenses completely.

 

Advances in Contact Lens Technology for Dry Eye Relief

Which advances in contact lens technology are helping those with dry eyes? The field has seen impressive innovations, each aimed at enhancing comfort. Let’s take a closer look at these breakthroughs.

  • Innovations in lens materials and designs: Brands like CooperVision and Alcon offer lenses made from advanced materials such as silicone hydrogel. These materials allow significantly more oxygen to reach the cornea compared to traditional lens materials, promoting better eye health and reducing the risk of dryness. Additionally, these lenses have unique designs that optimize moisture retention on the lens surface, helping to keep the eyes hydrated throughout the day.
  • Lens coatings and treatments: Certain contact lens brands offer lenses with coatings and treatments designed to act as a moisture-locking shield, effectively preventing the tear film from evaporating. For instance, brands like Acuvue and Bausch + Lomb incorporate proprietary technologies such as HydraLuxe (Acuvue) or MoistureSeal (Bausch + Lomb) into their lenses. These technologies create an invisible barrier that helps retain moisture on the lens surface, ensuring that the eyes remain hydrated and comfortable throughout the day. It’s similar to having a protective layer that keeps the natural tear film intact, reducing the likelihood of dryness and discomfort associated with prolonged contact lens wear.
  • Orthokeratology (Ortho-K): With Ortho-K hard lenses, wearers insert these specially designed lenses overnight to reshape the cornea gradually. This reshaping corrects vision during sleep, eliminating the need for daytime lens wear. By avoiding wearing lenses during the day, Ortho-K users can experience a significant reduction in dry eye symptoms. Since the lenses are only worn at night, they don’t contribute to dryness caused by prolonged daytime lens wear, providing relief and comfort for individuals with dry eyes.

 

Practical Tips for Managing Dry Eyes with Contact Lenses

Do habit changes truly make a difference for those of us wearing contact lenses, especially with dry eyes? Indeed, a few key practices can significantly enhance your eye comfort and health.

  • Essential hygiene practices: Just as you’d wash your hands before a meal, ensuring hands are clean and dry before touching your lenses wards off bacteria. Properly cleaning and storing lenses as recommended prevents infections and lessens dry eye discomfort. · A clean lens will dehydrate less during the day and stay more comfortable for longer.
  • Regular eye exams: Frequent check-ups with your Ezekiel Eyes optometrist can help manage your signs and symptoms by adjusting the modality of contact lenses that is best for your dry eye condition.
  • Artificial tears and lubricating eye drops: These are designed to supplement your natural tear film, providing relief from dryness and irritation. Look for products compatible with contact lenses to avoid any adverse reactions and use them regularly for consistent comfort.
  • Eye vitamins and supplements: Nutrients like Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A, C, and E support overall eye health. Omega-3, in particular, has been shown to improve the quality of your tear film, reducing the symptoms of dry eyes.
  • Environmental modifications: Adjusting your surroundings can make a big difference. Limiting screen time, using a humidifier in dry conditions, and steering clear of direct air from fans or air conditioners help maintain natural eye moisture.
  • Limit your hours of contact lens wear: When you are at home relaxing after work or school, take out your contacts and switch back to glasses for a while (you should always have a backup pair of spectacles). This just helps give your eyes a bit more of a break.

Integrating these practices into routine can profoundly impact how contact lens users can manage dry eyes. It means embracing a comprehensive approach to eye care, ensuring both health and comfort in your visual world.

To learn more about your options for managing dry eyes and contact lens wear, watch the following video by Dr Sarah Pinkhasov.

 

Conclusion

In this article we’ve covered the connection between contact lenses and dry eye syndrome, and it’s clear that understanding and addressing the specific needs of your eyes is important.

From recognizing the symptoms of Contact Lens-Induced Dry Eye to exploring the advancements in lens technology, making informed decisions is at the heart of maintaining eye health and comfort. The key takeaway is the importance of adopting suitable eye care practices to mitigate dry eye symptoms effectively.

If you’re struggling with the challenges of dry eyes and contact lens wear, I invite you to book a consultation with our dedicated team at Ezekiel Eyes. Together, we can check your condition, explore your options, and tailor a solution that enhances your vision and comfort.

Scheduling an appointment with us is easy and convenient. Simply give us a call at (08) 9386 3620, or visit our website and click the “Book an Appointment” button.

optometrist-damon-ezekiel

In addition to owning and managing Ezekiel Eyes, Damon is a contact lens consultant to various research organisations. He regularly lectures and conducts workshops in contact lens practice throughout Australia, Asia and the United States. Damon graduated from the University of NSW with a Bachelor of Optometry in 1989. He is now married with two children and enjoys running, hockey, swimming, piano, travelling and trekking.

Damon’s professional associations include:
President of the International Society of Contact Lens Specialists
Practising Fellow of the Scleral Lens Education Society
Fellow of the Cornea & Contact Lens Society of Australia
Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry
Member of Optometry Australia
Member of the Orthokeratology Society of Australia
Member of Alcon Australia advisory panel