Luckily, swearing off contacts altogether isn’t your only hope for relief from dry eyes. A different type of contact lens may be all it takes to soothe your symptoms.
So what are the best contacts for dry eyes? Your first step in answering this question is to visit your eye doctor. They can check for underlying issues that might be causing your dry eyes—and can recommend next steps, perhaps including a new type of contact lens.
In the meantime, this guide will go over some of the best contact lenses for dry eyes. Plus, we’ll let you in on other ways (besides new contacts) you can try to soothe and hydrate your eyes.
How Contact Lenses Affect Dry Eyes
For some people, it may seem that contacts cause dry eyes. For others (such as people suffering from dry eye syndrome), contacts may make already-dry eyes feel worse. Some ways that contacts can influence the feeling of irritation and dryness include:
Contacts may affect tear evaporation: Some contact lenses, as they disrupt or break up the tear film, may make tears evaporate more quickly. This can cut down on the lubrication your eyes and lenses need.
Contacts may block oxygen from getting to your eyes: Contact lenses may reduce the amount of oxygen reaching the eyes. This can cause irritation (like that dry eye feeling), especially if you’ve been wearing your contacts for a long time.
Contacts may leave deposits that make eyes feel dry: Debris and proteins can build up on contact lenses. This may make tears less effective in hydrating the lens. The parched lens and debris can then cause irritation and dryness.
Contacts need moisture: To keep themselves hydrated, contact lenses may absorb moisture from your eyes. If making enough tears is a challenge for your eyes, they—and your lenses—may feel dry.
Lens friction may increase: Because contact lenses can interfere with the moisture level in the eyes, friction may increase between the lens and the eye. This can further irritate the eyes and dry them out.
Getting an eye exam is the first step toward relief.
For dry eyes, contacts need to do two main things:
1. Help your eyes stay hydrated
2. Make sure enough oxygen can pass through the lens to the eye
We’ve got the lowdown on how different types of contacts can do just that.
Daily Disposable Lenses
If you suffer from dry eye symptoms, your doctor might suggest daily disposable lenses. As their name implies, daily disposable lenses are worn once and then thrown away.
Because they aren’t worn again and again, single-use contacts may not be as prone to protein build-up. This may help decrease irritation and dryness. And wearing a new pair of contacts each day cuts down on the time you have to spend on contact lens care.
If you have dry eyes, your doctor might suggest contact lenses with a lower water content than your current contacts.
Why might a lower water content lens be better for dry eyes? Contact lenses with a higher water content need more moisture to keep from drying out. To stay hydrated, the lenses may steal moisture from your eyes, leading to dry eye symptoms. Contacts with a lower water content need less moisture, making them less likely to dehydrate your eyes.
Some soft contact lenses are made with a hydrogel material that makes the lens soft. Silicone hydrogel lenses improve upon hydrogel lenses by not only being soft but also allowing more oxygen to flow through the lens to the eye. This lets your eyes “breathe” better, helping them feel less irritated.
Scleral Contact Lenses
Scleral lenses are a type of rigid gas-permeable (RGP) lens, or “hard” contact lens. This lens type lets two to four times more oxygen get to your eyes than standard soft contact lenses do.
Scleral lenses are larger than standard contact lenses. Instead of sitting on your cornea (the clear dome on the front surface of your eye) the way standard contact lenses do, scleral lenses sit on the whites of your eyes, arching over the cornea. This creates a dome that is filled with natural tear film that hydrates the eyes.
Other Dry Eye Remedies for Contact Lens Wearers
Aside from trying a different type of contact lens to relieve your dry eyes, your doctor might recommend a new lens care product.
Try a Different Contact Lens Solution
It might not be your contacts that are causing dry eyes, but your contact solution. Some contact lens solutions contain preservatives that could irritate eyes and cause feelings of dryness.
Or you might be using a solution that isn’t the best type for your contact lenses. Trying a solution with a different formula might do the trick. For example, a hydrogen peroxide solution, via a chemical reaction, can provide better cleaning of the protein buildup on lenses.
Use Rewetting Eye Drops
Certain rewetting eye drops for dry eyes (both over-the-counter and prescription) are safe for use with contacts. But before you try rewetting eye drops, check with your doctor to find out which drops are best for you and the type of contacts you wear.
Taking certain precautions with your contact lenses can help decrease risk factors for dry eyes. It can be hard to stick to a good contact lens routine every day. But for those who can’t use disposable lenses, these actions could help with dry eyes and prevent other, more serious conditions, too.
Clean Your Contacts Properly
Proper contact lens care is an important strategy to help you avoid dry eyes. Make sure you’re following your eye doctor’s directions for how to clean your contact lenses, how to handle them, and how to store them properly.
Change Lenses as Directed
Wearing your contacts for too long can cause dry eyes. To prevent this, be sure to stick to the wear schedule your eye doctor recommends. Unless they are extended-wear lenses, contacts shouldn’t be worn when sleeping either. It’s also recommended to switch to a new contact storage case at least every three months.
Give Your Eyes a Rest
In addition to taking proper care of your contact lenses, you may want to take a break from wearing contacts every so often. Your doctor may suggest that you wear your contacts for fewer hours in the day in order to give your eyes a rest. In serious cases of dry eyes, they may recommend wearing glasses for a more extended period, like a few days or more.
Worried About Dry Eyes and Contacts? Contact Your Doctor
If you’re experiencing dry eyes with contact lenses (or even without them!), then it’s time to get an eye exam. Only your eye doctor has the expertise to properly assess your dry eyes and determine the best plan to soothe and prevent dry eyes in the future.
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