More than 16 million people in the U.S. suffer from red, dry, itchy eyes — and many think they can’t wear contacts. If you’re one of them, it’s time to reconsider your point of view. The technology that goes into contacts has gotten a lot better in recent years. Now you can actually wear contact lenses and still find relief from dry eyes. (👏 👏 👏)
Read on for tips to help you overcome dry-eye discomfort and enjoy the freedom of contacts.
What causes dry eyes?
When you have dry eyes your body doesn’t produce enough of the high-quality tear film necessary to moisturize and protect the surface of your eyes. Tears are really important for eye health. They lubricate our eyes, shield us from dust and other irritants, and can lower our chances of getting eye infections. Part of our tear fluid is liquid, part of it is oil-based, part of it is mucus and part of it is protein. If one of those components isn’t functioning at 100%, we can develop dry eyes. If it happens often, it’s considered chronic dry eye, or dry eye syndrome.
If you’ve ever experienced dry eyes, you’re probably familiar with some of the symptoms: Your eyes feel tired, look red and feel scratchy, itchy or gritty. You might also notice a stinging or burning sensation.
But other symptoms can be surprising. Some people’s eyes water more than usual, while others can develop light sensitivity or blurry vision. Occasionally, dry eye may be a sign of a more serious condition like the autoimmune disorder Sjögren’s syndrome.
Do contacts dry eyes out?
Yes, but usually not so severely that you are unable to wear them.
Our eyes depend on oxygen to stay healthy. Because contacts cover part of your eye surface, they lower the amount of oxygen that can pass into your eye, which in turn can cause or exacerbate dry eyes. Contacts also can cause your tears to evaporate faster, compounding the problem.
How do my contacts affect my dry eyes?
About half of all contacts wearers say they experience dry eye symptoms. And if you’re not an ideal contacts wearer (don’t worry, most of us aren’t), wearing contacts can make dry eyes worse.
If you don’t clean your hands and lenses properly or if you’re prone to over-wearing your contacts, you may unwittingly amplify your dry eye symptoms (ouch!). But if you’re willing to make a few changes to your routine, you should be able to keep dryness under control and wear contacts.
Make sure to wash your hands before handling contacts or touching your eye, clean and store your lenses properly, replace your contacts on schedule and ask your eye doctor to recommend artificial tears/rewetting drops formulated for contacts wearers with dry eyes.
Can I still wear contacts?
In most cases, yes! Unfortunately, some contacts wearers may hesitate to tell their eye doctors about dry eye symptoms because they’re afraid their docs will make them stop wearing contacts. But if your dry eye isn’t severe you should be able to find lenses that are comfortable and don’t irritate your eyes.
Here are a few things to consider:
- Your choice of contacts: During your annual exam, ask your eye doctor if they recommend trying a few different types of contacts to see which ones feel most comfortable. For some people, switching to 1-day lenses offers dry eye relief.
- Your lens care routine: Sometimes your choice of contacts are less to blame for dry eyes than how you approach lens cleaning, storage and replacement. Some contact solutions and rewetting drops are made with preservatives that can dry out your eyes.
Other formulas might not be the best choice for the material your lenses are made of, leading them to break down and become uncomfortable faster than they would otherwise.
Let your eye doctor know which products you’re using—they may be able to recommend a formula that’s less irritating. And as noted above, it’s also important to thoroughly clean your contacts and replace them on schedule.
- It can’t hurt to take a break: If you’re the kind of contacts wearer who pops your lenses on in the morning and doesn’t take them out till you go to bed more than 12 hours later, consider scaling back a bit. Switching to glasses when your eyes start to feel dry can slow the evaporation of your tear film, block dust and other irritants, and allow more oxygen to reach your eyes.
The bottom line: Don’t hold back on your optometrist! If your eyes are dry, talk about it. Choosing the right lenses, taking good care of your contacts, and occasionally switching to glasses are all techniques that can help you comfortably wear contacts. Your eye doctor can walk you through the details and help you come up with a plan to banish dry eye.
If you’re living with dry eye and need help finding the best contacts for you, Sightbox is your solution. For as low as $39 a month for 12 months, attend a Sightbox-booked and paid-for eye exam and receive a year’s supply of contacts shipped to your door.