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What Causes Dry Eyes with Contacts?

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A drawing of an eye in sand to describe the feeling of having dry eyes

For many people, switching to contact lenses is a massive upgrade from eyeglasses. There are a lot of benefits to wearing contacts, such as eye safety during sports, clearer vision, and more confidence (if you don’t like wearing glasses). On the other hand, there can be some disadvantages to contact lenses. Some people are prone to dry eye syndrome and find contacts aggravate their condition

In this article, we’ll explore dry eye syndrome and its causes and provide some tips on treating your symptoms or preventing them in the first place.

What Is Dry Eye Syndrome?

As the name implies, the symptoms of dry eye syndrome result from excessively dry eyes. Not only can these symptoms cause discomfort they can also lead to more serious issues like infection or damage if left untreated.

Causes of Dry Eye

There are 2 primary types of dry eyes. One is a result of an inadequate amount of tear production. Without enough tears, your eyes become dry and irritated. The other is when there’s not enough oil in your tears, resulting in them evaporating before they can lubricate your eye. Having both types of dry eyes can occur in severe cases.

Many factors can cause dry eyes, including:

  • Environmental, such as dust, smoke, or wind
  • Contact lenses
  • Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD)
  • Age
  • Eyelid issues
  • Other health conditions, including Sjögren’s syndrome, thyroid disorders, or a vitamin A deficiency
  • Eye trauma or surgery
A person holding onto a contact lens on their index finger while they pour contact lens solution over the lens

What Causes Dry Eyes with Contacts?

Wearing contact lenses is never supposed to hurt. Some discomfort can be expected when adjusting to a new lens, but this should always subside. One common type of persistent discomfort after the adjustment period is due to dry eyes.

There are 2 ways that contact lenses can cause these symptoms to flare up:

  • First, the cornea (the part of the eye where the lenses rest) must absorb oxygen directly from the air. If contacts are worn too much or the wrong lenses are used, you can experience dry, itchy eyes by the end of the day.
  • Second, contact lenses must absorb some of the eye’s tear film to stay soft and flexible. In the case of poor quality or improperly fitted lenses, they can absorb too much of your tear film.

Managing Dry Eyes from Contacts

Depending on the cause of your dry eye syndrome, there are several therapies your optometrist may recommend. Not all of them are ideal for contact lens-induced dry eyes. But let’s take a look at a few good options for relieving these uncomfortable symptoms, so you can keep wearing contact lenses:

  • Lubricating eye drops: These are often the first line of treatment for dry eyes. Keep in mind that you need drops that are specifically formulated for use with contact lenses.
  • Medicated eye drops: In some cases, your eye doctor may prescribe drops that perform specific functions, like stimulating natural tear production or reducing inflammation.

Specialty Contact Lenses for Managing Dry Eye

When it comes to contact lens-induced dry eyes, many cases are easily treated with a switch in the type of contact lens being used:

  • Daily disposable lenses: Those who wear contact lenses wear them for an entire day. Often, it’s only part way through the day or near the end that the dry eye symptoms flare up. While wearing a soft contact lens, this may worsen as it wears out. Because daily disposables are fresh every day, this lens could be the solution.
  • Scleral lenses: For those who have trouble wearing standard lenses because of their dry eyes, scleral lenses can actually treat their dry eyes and provide clear, crisp vision. Unlike a regular contact lens that sits on the edges of the cornea, a scleral lens spans outward and sits on the hard white surface of the eye called the sclera. Additionally, a pocket of saline solution can be inserted under the lens to help keep the eye lubricated.

Avoiding Contact Lens-Induced Dry Eye

If you wear standard soft or rigid contact lenses, you can do a few things to help prevent troublesome dry eye symptoms from flaring up, such as: 

  • Use hydrating eye drops designed for use with contact lenses.
  • Ensure you’re always cleaning your hands and the lenses thoroughly to prevent the transfer of germs and other contaminants.
  • Take your contact lenses out every night unless they’re designed for overnight wear.

Discover Your Contact Lens Options

At Eye Effects, we understand how uncomfortable dry eyes can be, especially when you’re a contact lens wearer. If you’ve tried lubricating eye drops and are still struggling with uncomfortable dry eye symptoms, give us a call.

Our helpful staff is available to book you an appointment with one of our optometrists. The eye doctor can examine your eyes to rule out any underlying conditions and recommend a treatment plan to eliminate those itchy, scratchy eyes.

Written by Dr. Rod Adams

Dr. Rod Adams is a graduate of the University of Alberta and the University of California at Berkeley School of Optometry. Dr. Adams has been in private family practice since 1997. During this time, he has developed a strong interest in pediatric optometry and laser corrective surgery options.
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