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Do Contact Lenses Cause Dry Eyes?

Dry eyes are a common chronic medical condition called Dry Eye Disease (DED). Dry Eye Disease affects over 300 million people around the world. While severity of symptoms can vary, suffering through dry, itchy eyes can be stressful and have a negative impact on day-to-day life, especially for contact lens wearers.  According to a study in Optometry & Vision Science, about half of contact lens wearers develop contact lens-related dry eye. 

To understand how contact lenses can contribute to symptoms of dry eyes, it’s important to understand the root cause of dry eye disease or DED. Understanding what’s causing your dry eye symptoms also makes it easier to identify the best treatments for dry eyes that are effective in providing sustained relief for contact lens wearers.   

  • Dry Eye Disease Basics
  • Contact Lenses
  • Vision & Comfort

Dry Eye Disease Basics

While many suffer from dry eyes, most people don’t realize that DED has two forms; evaporative and aqueous-deficient. Both variants can contribute to symptoms and negatively affect your ability to comfortably wear contact lenses for proper vision. 

Evaporative Dry Eye Disease is the most common form and makes up approximately 85% of cases of Dry Eye Disease. It is also called Meibomian Gland Dysfunction (MGD). Meibomian Gland Dysfunction occurs when the ratio of components in the tear film is out of balance. Tears rely on a mixture of water and an oil called meibum, which is produced by the Meibomian gland. When glands are blocked or clogged, meibum oils cannot reach the tear fluid. Without meibum, tears are too watery and evaporate quickly, causing dry and sensitive eyes. 

Aqueous-Deficient Dry Eye Disease is less common and is caused by a lack of moisture in the tear fluid. This shortage occurs due to issues in the lacrimal glands and may have other underlying causes. 

Both types of dry eye disease can cause light sensitivity, red eyes, or even blurred vision. These existing symptoms can become more uncomfortable when they interfere with your contact lenses. 

Contact Lenses

Contact lenses are a great alternative to glasses for people on the go or who simply don’t like wearing glasses. However, contact lenses can also irritate users, exacerbating and prolonging dry eye symptoms resulting in a medical condition called “contact lens-induced dry eye”.

The front of the eye (cornea) is the only part of the body that receives oxygen directly from the air. One reason contact lens wearers are predisposed to dry eyes is because contact lenses can partially block oxygen from entering the eye. Although many contact lenses are designed to allow larger amounts of oxygen to permeate the eye, wearers can still experience dry, gritty eyes, especially towards the end of the day. Another cause of contact lens-induced dry eye is the fact that contact lenses actually absorb a portion of your tear fluids in order to stay soft.  This is called contact lens induced dry eye.  

In a healthy eye, our tears allow a contact lens to suspend or float in the tear film layer above the cornea. But when dry eye disease reduces the amount of lacrimal fluid due to excessive evaporation, gaps in the tear film can develop causing the contact lens to irritate the surface of the eye. That, in turn, causes pain, redness and itchiness. These symptoms can be exacerbated by poorly fitted or low quality contacts, as well as when you frequently wear contacts for extended periods.

Contact lenses can also play a role in Meibomian Gland Dysfunction. Any time you touch your eye, you risk introducing dirt, debris, or bacteria to the area. These entities can clog the Meibomian glands in your eyelids and further result in dry eye symptoms.

If you struggle to overcome dry eyes related to MGD or the use of contact lenses, the symptoms can be brutal. 

Vision & Comfort

Fortunately, relief from dry eyes of all causes is much more accessible than you may think. 

For alleviating pain from dry eyes in both contact-lens-induced dry eye and MGD, there is a shared school of thought that relies on removing blockages so your eyes can produce their natural tear fluid so it can continue to protect your eyes and vision. 

“Artificial Tears”

While “artificial tears” are a common salve at the moment, they were created at a time when science believed that dry eye disease was caused by an inability to produce enough tears. In fact, doctors over 3500 years ago recommended many remedies aimed at increasing tear production.  

If a man’s eyes are affected with dryness, he shall rub an onion, drink it in beer, apply oil to his eyes. Thou shalt disembowel a yellow frog, mix its gal in curd, apply to his eyes.”

— Prescription from Assyro-Babylonian ophthalmology (Kraus A. Assyro-Babylonian Ophthalmology. Annals of Medical History 1934;6:42-55) . 

While science has certainly advanced greatly since the days of applying beer and onions, today’s “artificial tears” are designed to replace natural tears. While helpful in providing temporary relief, these over-the-counter drops do not address the underlying gland dysfunction (MGD) responsible for most dry eye cases. Since the the effects are temporary, some people find themselves in a cycle requiring more frequent use for a relatively short period of relief. In fact, Jennifer Anniston lamented in an interview that she felt she had become addicted to the eye drops she was using to combat dry eye symptoms. 

Replace Your Contacts

Replacing the type of contacts that you use can have big implications on how easily hydration and oxygen can reach the eye. There are many types of contact lenses on the market, so investing in new lenses may help contact-lens-induced dry eye. If you don’t want to replace your contacts or have more severe dry eyes that persist without contact lenses, keep reading for an effective treatment for your dry eye symptoms. 

Dry-Eye Friendly Contact Lenses

  • Silicone hydrogel contact lenses –  These create a barrier that protects the eyes and accommodates prescriptions. At the same time, more oxygen permeates through the lens, helping your cornea to function properly. 
  • Low water content contact lenses Contact lenses that offer too much water can negatively impact your eyes over time. Eventually, the contact will absorb moisture from the tear fluid, leading to the same dry, itchy eyes. 
  • Daily disposable contact lenses – daily contacts can prevent protein deposits from building in the eye.

For all contact lenses, proper hygiene and care cannot be neglected. The lenses above are tools to help you see and not a remedy for dry eyes. While dry eye symptoms may improve with new lenses, addressing the underlying problem of MGD requires treatment with heat and daily eyelid hygiene.

Precise Heat and Eyelid Hygiene

For persistent DED, you need to take care of the root cause of the issue through your daily routine at home. By removing clogs in the Meibomian glands and allowing your body’s natural remedy to produce proper tear fluid, contact-related and non-contact-related dry eyes can drastically improve. 

Fortunately, you can easily remove clogs in the eyelids through a combination of heat and cleaning. Long considered the best relief for dry eyes, a warm compress has been traditionally used. However, a warm compress is not always accessible, sanitary, or safe. 

For the best dry eye treatments at home, EverTears® saves the day. EverTears® by ThermaMEDx is an FDA-registered pre-moistened pad that uses instant self-heating technology to loosen clogs in your eyelid glands and melts solidified meibum oils in the glands to restore proper flow. It only takes five minutes to treat your eyes with the soothing moist heat and cleaning provided by EverTears®.  

By combining the benefits of a warm compress and a cleaning pad, EverTears® provides a simple, convenient “one-stop” treatment for dry eyes.

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