Dry eye is an overarching term used to categorise any disease or discomfort in the ocular surface of the eye. This is a fairly common problem that plagues contact lens wearers and non-wearers alike.
Other names associated with the phrase include keratoconjunctivitis sicca, dry eye disease (or syndrome) and Sjogren’s syndrome. However, it is a fact that wearing contact lenses with dry eye syndrome can only worsen that dry, itchy and burning feeling in the eyes.
Most people can wear soft contact lenses, right?
According to research, up to 50% of contact lens wearers complain of dryness in the eye while more than three-quarters of contact lenses wearers discontinue at some point due to discomfort. Fortunately, this does not mean that you need to stop wearing contact lenses altogether – you simply have to figure out whether you are wearing the right lenses. It is important to remember that an improper lens fitting can sometimes result in symptoms that are misdiagnosed as dry eyes.
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Innovative lens materials
Traditional contact lenses are more rigid, and can increase eye irritation associated with this eye condition. However, there are many contact lens types in the market today, designed specifically to alleviate symptoms of dryness. Most soft contact lenses are designed with oxygen-permeable soft polymers that allow the cornea to receive oxygen via air while at the same time, retaining water in varying degrees.
Several leading manufacturers of contact lenses are specifically developing materials targeted towards contact lens-related dry eye symptoms. The latest innovation lens materials consist of a silicone core layer (which doesn’t soak up water) sandwiched between a thin layer of soft hydrated polymer for a soft and comfortable fit. These materials allow contact lenses to remain moist and comfortable for at least 12 hours of continuous wear.
Soft contact lenses (versus rigid ones), are made special polymers that allow the lens to hold water and let oxygen pass through, allowing your eyes to breathe. Talk to your optometrist about what designs and materials will suit your eyes best.
Scleral contact lenses
At The Eye Practice, scleral contact lenses are a reliable treatment for persistent cases of dry eyes. Recent studies have provided evidence of moderate success in managing serious cases of dry eyes that was previously untreatable with conventional treatment alternatives.
Scleral contact lenses look similar to oversized hard contact lens in appearance, and vault the damaged cornea with the purpose of preventing the evaporation of tears in the eyes. Sterile saline liquid remains in the reservoir of the lenses and moisturises the eye with constant lubrication. Wearing scleral contact lenses provide relief from pain and light sensitivity when suffering from dry eyes. These lenses are also proven to improve blurred vision by covering irregularities on the cornea.
Typically, these scleral lenses are worn during waking hours and wearers have to be trained in how to apply, remove and clean them properly. Since special factors have to be considered with fitting a patient with scleral lens to manage dry eye, only an advanced contact lens practitioner can undertake the procedure.
Water content matters
There are many variations of soft contact lens when it comes to water content – ranging from 38% water to more than 70% water. Wearing soft contact lens with higher water content might actually worsen your dry eyes, as they can actually soak up your own tears into the lens material.
By contrast, a pair of soft contact lens that has lower water content level will allow your eyes to breathe and retain moisture instead of drying them. Consulting your contact-lens expert to make sure that you are using the best contact lens for your condition can go a long way towards reducing such symptoms.
Do artificial tears help?
Wearing your contact lens might be more comfortable if you make use of lubricating eyedrops or artificial tears that are preservative free. These are helpful in replacing moisture that is absorbed by dry air. However, they only provide short-term relief but some may be more effective than others, depending on your symptoms.
Picking the right product in consultation with your experienced contact lens practitioner is advisable. The Eye Practice recommends administering a drop at midday and another around late afternoon. Using drops more frequently might mean that you should switch to a better pair of lenses.
To avoid toxic preservatives, choose a unit-dose eye drop that is available in small plastic tubes or through a valve-delivery system like Hylo Forte. Avoiding over-the-counter eye drops is best as many of these products were not meant to be used by contact lens wearers and are not compatible with every lens material. Take suggestions from your optometrist for best results.
Contact lens care for dry eyes
Some contact lens disinfectants and cleaning solutions do not work well with dry or sensitive eyes. Contact lens solutions with preservatives can cause more damage to eyes displaying dry eye symptoms. At The Eye Practice, we see a lot of dry eye patients and we are very aware of the havoc that preservatives can play with delicate eyes.
- Pay close attention to the specific solutions your optometrist recommends at the time of contact lens fitting and don’t change to another product without discussion with them.
- Hot tip! Try removing your contact lens midday and placing them in fresh solution for 30 minutes while rehydrating the eyes with artificial tears. This has been shown to make a significant difference, according to a 2002 research paper.
- Changing your contact lenses wear to a daily disposable type of contact lens eliminates the cleaning requirement and is often a great alternative as you discard them after single use.
- Otherwise, if that is not an option, you should ideally stay away from one-step cleaning and disinfection solutions that contain harsh chemicals. Any contact lens solution that is a hydrogen peroxide solution such as AOSEPT is a good option.