Effective Management of Dry Eye While Wearing Contact Lenses

Contact lenses are an effective way to correct your vision, provide freedom and convenience, and are a great alternative to traditional eyeglasses. Despite the ease of wearing contact lenses, according to the National Institute of Health, around 10% of wearers stop wearing them within the first three years because of contact lens discomfort. 

Dry eye, a common eye condition, can make wearing contact lenses tricky. Although this eye condition is found in contact lens wearers and non-wearers alike, its symptoms become more severe if you wear lenses. This is because when you put the lens in your eye, it comes in contact with the glands at the back of your eyelids. This interaction creates a rubbing or chafing effect. And over time, this friction can stress the glands, increasing the likelihood of experiencing dry eye syndrome.

However, experiencing eye dryness doesn’t mean you have to give up wearing contact lenses! We’ve compiled this comprehensive guide to help you effectively manage dry eyes while wearing contact lenses.

What is Dry Eye?

Let’s understand this eye condition better before we get to strategies to manage dry eyes effectively for contact lens wearers.

Dry eyes refer to a condition in which the eyes do not receive sufficient moisture or lubrication from tears. Your tear film plays a crucial role in maintaining the health and comfort of the eyes. It provides moisture, nourishment, and protection against irritants and external aggressors. 

However, when the production or quality of tears is compromised, it can lead to dry eye syndrome, which has a variety of symptoms.

Dry Eyes Symptoms

The following are the most common dry eye symptoms experienced by contact lens wearers and non-wearers alike

  • Burning or stinging sensation 
  • Scratchy or gritty sensation 
  • Sensitivity to light.
  • Excessive tearing.
  • Redness.
  • Hazy vision.
  • Uneven distribution of tears 
  • Difficulty wearing contact lenses.

Can Contact Lenses Cause Dry Eye?

According to a study by the National Institute of Health, around 49% of those who wear contact lenses daily reported having dry eye syndrome

Tears are crucial in maintaining the eye’s moisture and facilitating clear vision. When we blink, tears form a protective film that spreads across the eye’s surface, called the cornea. The tear film has an outer oily layer with a watery layer beneath it. 

Contact lenses, however, sit in the middle of the tear film and disrupt the tear film’s natural function and stability. As a result, the contact lens can cause friction with the eye’s surface. Without the protective oily layer, tears evaporate more rapidly, leading to the discomfort of dry eyes.

Some additional reasons for contact lenses causing dry eyes include

  • Improper fit on eyes
  • Prolonged time of wear
  • Made of materials that can evaporate tears.
  • Incorrect contact lens solution
  • Incorrect prescription.

Tips to Manage Dry Eye For Contact Lens Wearers

If you’re a contact lens wearer experiencing dry eye symptoms, standard dry eye treatments like artificial tears can still be effective. 

However, when it comes to managing dry eyes, specifically while wearing contact lenses, you can take several additional steps to minimise the severity of your symptoms. These steps include

  • Selecting the Correct type of Contact Lenses 
  • Find the Right Contact Lens Solution
  • Consider a Proper Contact Lens Care.

Let us understand each of these steps in detail below – 

Tip 1 – Selecting the correct type of Contact Lenses

Contact lenses can hamper the steady flow of oxygen reaching your eyes, resulting in eye dryness. So, if you are already experiencing dry eyes, choosing the suitable types of contact lenses is extremely important. So here are some of the popular contact lenses for dry eyes

Rigid-Gas Permeable Contact Lenses (RGP)

Rigid gas-permeable (RGP) contact lenses suit individuals with dry eyes. This is because these lenses allow better oxygen flow to the cornea, reduce the buildup of debris, and can provide improved comfort to individuals with dry eyes.

Scleral Contact Lenses

Scleral lenses for dry eyes are another popular choice. Scleral lenses are contact lenses that can benefit individuals with dry eyes. The design of these lenses ensures constant hydration of the eye. This is because the space between the cornea and the scleral lenses is filled with a saline solution, providing a constant source of hydration to the eyes. Thus, scleral lenses can offer improved comfort for those experiencing dry eye symptoms.

Soft Daily Disposable Contact Lenses

Daily disposable contact lenses can be an excellent option for individuals with dry eyes. Owing to the fresh lens worn each day, there’s a lesser risk of debris buildup that can increase dryness.

Note – Opt for daily disposable contacts that consist of silicone-based hydrogel. This is because it does not allow water to evaporate as quickly, helping your eye stay moist for prolonged periods.

Tip 2 - Find the Right Contact Lens Solution

Dry eyes may be attributed to the contact lens solution rather than the lenses themselves. This is because specific contact lens solutions may contain substances irritating or contributing to eye dryness. Hence, consulting a professional and experienced ophthalmologist for alternative solutions is best.

Tip 3 - Consider a Proper Contact Lens Care.

A proper contact lens care routine is crucial for dry eyes and overall eye health. So here are some contact lens care tips to take note of

  • Dispose of your contact lenses regularly as scheduled to ensure optimal hygiene.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly while wearing and removing the contact lenses.
  • Make sure you change the contact lens solution in your case daily.
  • Use rewetting drops before wearing the lens, even when your eyes do not feel dry.
  • Allow your eyes to breathe by going contact-free for a few hours daily.
  • Keep your contact lenses away from water, as it can introduce germs to the eyes.

Additional Tips to Maintain Overall Eye Health

Beyond dry eye and contact lens care, it is essential to care for your overall eye health. And here are some tips to help you with the same

  • Eat Well – 

Maintaining sound eye health begins with a well-balanced diet. So ensure you include nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, zinc, and vitamins C and E in your diet. 

  • Practice the 20-20-20 rule – 

Staring at the computer screens can cause eye strain and dry eyes. It is essential to take result breaks from screen time. This can be done with the 20-20-20 rule. Rest your eyes for 20 seconds after every 20 minutes of screen time. 

  • Wear Sunglasses – 

Protecting your eyes from the sun’s UV rays is essential. Hence choose sunglasses that block the UVA and UVB rays.

When to See A Dry Eye Specialist?

While this guide strives to help you navigate dry eyes and contact lenses, it is not a substitute for professional care. So if you are experiencing persistent dry eye symptoms and discomfort in wearing contact lenses, it is essential to seek help from a dry eye specialist

Dr Ritika Dalal is an experienced ophthalmologist in Mumbai who specializes in dry eye treatment. Her clinic is a super speciality centre for Ophthalmology, equipped with advanced technologies for diagnosing and treating dry eyes.