Have you ever felt that irritating, gritty sensation in your eyes after just a few hours of wearing your contact lenses? Does it seem like no matter what brand of contacts you try, your eyes just can’t tolerate them for very long? If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Roughly 50% of contact lens wearers deal with dry, uncomfortable eyes according to research.
But don’t despair. With so many options for contact lenses today, chances are you can find a pair that feels great even if you have chronic dry eye issues. While it may take some trial and error working with your optometrist to discover the right lens material, type, and fit for your eyes, you can definitely still enjoy the convenience and vision correction of contacts while managing dryness.
In this guide, we’ll break down all the key things to know if you want to wear contact lenses but suffer from dry eyes. From understanding the causes of dry eye to lens materials made specifically for dryness, you’ll learn insider tips to make contacts work with your eyes’ needs. Let’s get started!
What Exactly Is Dry Eye Syndrome?
First, what causes that scratchy, irritated feeling in your eyes in the first place? Dry eye syndrome (also called dry eye disease) is a condition where your eyes don’t produce enough quality tears to stay lubricated. According to the National Eye Institute, it impacts around 5 million Americans.
Your tears aren’t just water – they have three distinct layers that work together to nourish your eyes:
- Oil – Prevents quick evaporation of tears
- Water – Moisturizes eyes
- Mucus – Spreads tears evenly across eye surface
When any part of this tears system isn’t working right, you get symptoms of dry eye like:
- Gritty, scratchy feeling like something is in your eye
- Stinging, burning sensation
- Excessive watering or teary eyes
- Blurred vision
- Light sensitivity
- Eye fatigue
Not fun! What causes this tear deficiency to happen? A few common culprits:
- Age – Tear production can decrease as we get older
- Gender – Women are more prone due to hormone changes
- Medications – Antihistamines, antidepressants, birth control
- Environment – Wind, smoke, and dry climates
- Health Conditions – Arthritis, diabetes, inflammation
- Contact Lens Wear – Can disrupt tear film over time
To diagnose dry eyes, your optometrist has a few tests in their toolbox:
- Tear Film Evaluation – Checks tear layers
- Tear Breakup Time – Measures how fast tears evaporate
- Schirmer’s Test – Measures tear production
- Eyelid Exam – Looks for inflammation or clogging
- Eye Exam – Checks for surface damage
Once the cause is identified, there are a few ways to manage dry eye:
- Artificial Tears – Lubricating eye drops to add moisture
- Treating Underlying Issues – Changing medications, managing health conditions
- Punctal Plugs – Plugs to block tear duct drainage
- Anti-inflammatory Medication – Reduces eyelid inflammation
- Eyelid Hygiene – Cleans eyelids to minimize oil clogs
Phew, that was a lot on dry eye! Now let’s get into how you can still wear your beloved contact lenses even if you’re battling dryness.
Dry Eyes and Contact Lens Discomfort
If you’re a contact lens fan, you’ve probably noticed that dry eye symptoms can get worse while wearing lenses. Around 50% of contact lens wearers experience some degree of dryness and discomfort associated with lens use.
Why is that? Contact lenses sit right on top of the cornea – the clear outer layer that covers the front of the eye. As you blink, the contact lens disrupts that tear film distribution a bit. Over time, this can lead to dry spots on the cornea.
If you already have an underlying dry eye condition, contacts can exacerbate the problem. But don’t lose hope! With a few easy adjustments, you can minimize dryness while wearing lenses:
- Limit Wear Time – Take lenses out periodically for eye rests
- Proper Hygiene – Clean lenses and replace solution regularly
- New Solutions – Use preservative-free brands if needed
- Rewetting Drops – Lubricate eyes under lenses
When dryness gets really persistent, it’s a good idea to take a little contact lens vacation. Give your eyes a break for a few days and use preservative-free artificial tears several times a day. This rehydrates your eyes and gives the cornea a chance to recover.
Contact Lens Options for Dry Eyes
Now for the good stuff! There are so many types of contact lenses on the market today that there’s likely one that will jive with your dry eyes. It’s all about finding the right material, size, and wearing modality. Let’s explore some options:
Soft Contact Lens Materials
Most contact lenses prescribed nowadays are soft lenses made from pliable plastics and hydrogels. Some major perks? They allow oxygen to reach your eyes, are comfortable right away for most, and come in both reusable and disposable versions.
Within the soft lens category, silicone hydrogel lenses specifically can be great for dry eye. The silicone helps prevent water evaporation from the lenses so your eyes stay more hydrated. Brands like Biofinity and Oasys are popular silicone hydrogel lenses.
If you’re experiencing dryness with your regular soft lenses, ask your optometrist about trying a silicone hydrogel instead. Just one material swap could make a big difference!
Rigid Gas Permeable Lenses
Rigid gas permeable (RGP) lenses are the hard, durable plastic contacts that hold their shape super well. While they take some getting used to, RGP lenses have some advantages:
- Allow maximum oxygen to cornea
- Resist protein buildup
- Provide ultra-sharp vision
Because they permit so much oxygen passage, some patients with dry eye report improved comfort in RGP versus soft lenses. Talk to your optometrist about being fitted for RGP lenses if you haven’t tried them already.
Disposable vs. Reusable Lenses
No matter which lens material you use, consider going with disposable daily contacts if possible. Lenses that are thrown out after one use don’t accumulate deposits or irritants that can aggravate dryness.
Daily disposables provide a fresh, moist surface against your eye all day long. If reusables are causing you discomfort, try a two week or monthly disposable instead.
Here’s an option you may not have heard of before – scleral lenses. These are specialty rigid gas permeable lenses that are much larger in diameter than regular contacts. They cover not just the cornea, but also part of the sclera (the white of the eye).
The large size means scleral lenses vault over your entire cornea without touching it. This creates a “fluid reservoir” over your eye, bathing the sensitive cornea in lubrication.
People with severe dry eye that haven’t found relief with other modalities can experience great results with scleral lenses. Getting the right fit and learning to insert them takes practice. But if you’re struggling with persistent dryness, ask your optometrist whether scleral lenses could help.
Dry Eye Contact Lens Brands
Some contact lens manufacturers design their products specifically with dry eye relief in mind.
Optilight For Dry Eyes is one such brand. Their lenses contain active ingredients like hyaluronic acid and vitamin B3 meant to lock in moisture. Studies show Optilight lenses can improve dry eye symptoms by up to 50% for contact lens wearers.
Talk with your optometrist about specialty brands created to combat dryness. Getting fitted with lenses made for dry eye could make a big impact on your comfort.
Caring for Your Lenses
Once you’ve got your new dry eye-friendly contact lenses, it’s vital to take pristine care of them. Follow these contact lens hygiene practices to minimize irritation:
- Rub and Rinse – Gently rub lenses while cleaning to remove deposits
- New Solution – Use fresh solution every time; never re-use old solution
- Weekly Enzyme Cleaner – Use an enzyme-based cleaner weekly to remove protein
- Replace Cases – Swap contact lens cases out every 3 months
- Rewetting Drops – Use preservative-free drops before insertion and as needed
Your contact lens hygiene routine is your first line of defense against discomfort. Taking the time to properly store, clean, and handle your lenses helps them feel pleasant all day long.
Seeing Your Eye Doctor
If you’re struggling with dry, irritated eyes while wearing contact lenses, don’t just put up with constant discomfort. See your optometrist for a full dry eye evaluation.
They can examine your eyes and tear film to pinpoint the culprit. Once the cause is determined, they’ll suggest targeted treatment options.
Your optometrist can also guide you in selecting the right contact lens material, type, and replacement schedule for your eyes’ needs. Be honest about any dryness or pain you experience with lens wear.
It may take a few different trial pairings to land on the perfect contact lens fit and brand. But don’t get discouraged. With your optometrist’s expertise, you’ll find an ideal match that keeps your eyes feeling fresh. Ditch the dryness and get ready to wear your new comfortable contacts everywhere!
Can You Still Enjoy Contacts With Chronic Dry Eye?
Absolutely! With so many varieties of contact lenses available today, there are definitely options that can work with your eyes even if you have persistent dry eye issues. It’s about finding the right lens material and type for your unique eyes.
Work closely with your optometrist and be patient as you experiment with different brands and modalities. Don’t settle for discomfort – with the right contacts and care, you can correct your vision while keeping your eyes happily hydrated.
While it may take some trial and error, you can certainly find a great contact lens match even with dryness. Don’t give up on conveniently seeing your best without glasses. With an optimally fitted pair designed for dry eye relief, you can confidently wear contacts again with clear, happy eyes.