Dry Eye from Contact LensesAuthor: Dr. William Tullo
May 30, 2014
Contact lenses can cause dry eye as they constantly draw moisture from the surface tear film of your eye to keep the contact lens hydrated. It’s common for people who wear contact lenses to use re-wetting or lubricating eye drops in order to reduce discomfort from contact lens-related dry eye.
Before you treat your dry eye, though, it’s important to learn what else might be causing it in the first place.
Are contacts really causing my dry eye?
In all cases of dry eye, irritation is caused by lack of lubrication, which exposes the nerves on the surface of the cornea and causes pain. It’s similar to the discomfort you feel from dry, chapped lips. The actual cause of the dryness, though, could be from contacts or these other common causes.
Sometimes the medicines we take, such as antihistamines, birth control pills or antidepressants, can cause us to experience symptoms such as dry mouth, dry skin and dry eye. Check your labels for this possible side effect.
Hydration is important for all bodily functions. If you’re dehydrated, chances are you may experience dry eye as a symptom. Is your skin also dry? Try drinking an extra glass of water or juice and reduce the amount of coffee, soda and alcohol you drink. These beverages can cause your body to lose water.
External factors can make dry eye worse. This can include particles in the air, such as cigarette smoke, pollutants and dust. This could also include wind from ceiling fans or a motorcycle.
4. Computer Use
Heavy use of computers—or any other task that demands the eye to focus for long periods of time—can reduce how often you blink. When you blink less, your eyes may become dry. Think of blinking like using a windshield wiper: the act spreads your tear film and refreshes your eye’s natural lubrication. If you use the computer frequently, step away for a few minutes or make an effort to blink more.
5. Inverted eyelashes
Occasionally, patients experiencing irritation have an eye lash that is inverted and touching the surface of their cornea, causing the person’s eye to tear up or feel irritated. Manually pluck the offending eye lashes so they are not touching your cornea or, see your local eye doctor. Insurance usually covers the removal of these misdirected lashes.
If these causes are unlikely, contact lenses might be causing your dry eye. Contacts constantly draw moisture from your eye’s surface. You can test this by taking out your contact and watching how long it takes the lens to dehydrate and shrivel. Often this is minutes or less, indicating that while the contact is in your eye, it is retaining its flexible shape by drawing moisture from your natural tear production.
Dry eye solutions
Your eye doctor can help you determine the cause of your dry eye and the best method of treatment.
Treatment could include drinking more water or using lubricating eye drops (look for the word “lubricating” on the package as these drops meet FDA requirements and differ from “re-wetting” eye drops). Treatment may also include the use of punctal plugs, which are inserted in the canal that connects your eyes to your nose. When you plug this canal, your tears stay longer in your eyes, resulting in less dry eye. Punctal plugs are covered by most insurance providers but could cost a couple hundred dollars, depending on your insurance coverage.
Some contact lens cleaning solutions have a more aggressive cleaning mechanism than others. If you are having trouble getting the recommended time out of your contact lenses, ask your eye doctor if you should be using a stronger cleaning solution or reducing the wear time of your contacts.
LASIK for contact lens related dry eye
LASIK eye surgery may be an option for those experiencing contact lens related dry eye. LASIK may cause temporary dryness, but notes there have been no conclusive studies that link long term dry eye and LASIK. Any signs or symptoms of dry eye would need to be absent in order to consider LASIK. A consultation with your local optometrist could determine if LASIK was an indicated option.