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Dry eyes and contact lenses: Common causes and ways to relief

Anyone who suffers from dry eyes is severely limited in everyday life: The eyelids are swollen and the eyes itch, burn, or are severely reddened – feelings of sand or grit in the eye. Often, the eyes are also sensitive to light. Even watery eyes can paradoxically be a sign of dry eyes. Contact lenses can sometimes cause or increase the symptoms – for example, if they aren't suitable for your eyes. But you don't have to lose heart and turn back to glasses immediately. Here is the connection between dry eyes and contact lenses.

Causes of dry eye

Dry eye syndrome (DES), also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) or keratitis sicca, is a multifactorial disease of the tears and ocular surface. When the eye is healthy, the tear glands produce a tear film that covers and protects the cornea and iris. In case of dry eyes, this tear film is out of balance. It can get ripped because either not enough liquid is produced (quantitative defect), or because the composition has changed (qualitative defect).


It could have many causes:

  • hormonal changes (e.g. testosterone deficiency with age, menopause, pregnancy)
  • intake of medication (e.g. beta blockers, antidepressants, various antihistamines, the anti-baby pill, sleeping pills, antiandrogens)
  • external influences (e.g. low air humidity due to air conditioning, dry air from heaters, cigarette smoke, windy and dusty environments, or constant work on a screen/monitor.
  • diseases (e.g. inflammation of the eyelid, diabetes, thyroid diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune diseases, allergies, eye surgery, or vitamin A deficiency)
  • unsuitable or inferior contact lenses

By examining the cornea, conjunctiva and other anterior sections of the eye, the ophthalmologist can determine the quality and quantity of the tear fluid. An examination by the ophthalmologist is necessary, because those who ignore the symptoms risk chronic red eyes, damage to the cornea and an increased risk of eye infections.

Contact lenses and dry eyes

Contact lenses are usually placed on a tear film above the cornea and iris. However, if the lenses are not correctly adjusted to your visual acuity and eye curvature, or sharp-edged by inferior manufacturing, the film of water will rupture and the contact lenses will irritate the ocular surface. Especially, contact lenses with a high water content extract fluid from the eyes. Because of external influences such as wind or heat, the contact lenses lose water. To hold their shape, they pull the lost fluid directly from the tear film. Therefore when you are buying lenses, you should pay attention to the appropriate materials: Hydrogel contact lenses have a higher water content, which evaporates faster and thus requires more liquid from the tear film. As a consequence the eye dries up faster. Lenses with hyaluronic acid (an endogenous, water-binding substance), in particular silicone hydrogel contacts, on the other hand, have good oxygen permeability and thus require 20 percent less water.

Something to help with dry eyes and contact lenses

Eye drops, also called artificial tears, can alleviate the lack of moisture in the short term. But make sure that the drops are suitable for use with your type of lenses. Avoid using eye drops with preservatives, as these may irritate the eyes even more.

The ophthalmologist may also prescribe an ointment that should be applied under the eyelid before going to bed. The ointment restores the tear film overnight. In severe cases surgery may be necessary, to prevent the drainage of tear fluid, which allows more tears to be stored on the surface of the eye.

If you suffer from dry eyes, it is also recommended not to wear the contact lenses for prolonged periods of time. To avoid straining your eyes, switch to glasses when working on the computer or watching TV. Even a whole day without lenses relaxes your eyes considerably. In case you have a cold, you should abstain from wearing contact lenses, so you don't smear pathogen on the eyes. Be especially careful when cleaning your contact lenses. Clean the lenses thoroughly after each use with the appropriate contact lens solution. Every few weeks you should also change or sterilize the contact lens containers so that no pathogens form.

Source: Zacks London eye clinic

However, eye drops, as well as the short-term renouncement of contact lenses, only treat the symptoms of dry eyes. Try to eliminate the causes, if possible. For example, see if it is possible to switch the medication for an underlying illness, or if you can wear special contact lenses for dry eyes. Daily lenses for example are suitable. Even hard contact lenses are often a better choice for dry eyes than soft lenses, as their water content is very low and the eye is hardly deprived of fluid.

Lastly, airing the room where you have to stay/work, or abstaining from smoking can provide relief. Air several times a day and change regularly the filter of your car air conditioner. Drink at least two liters of water a day, choose a vitamin-rich diet and try to get enough sleep. If you work a lot in front of a screen, you will consciously blink several times at short intervals to distribute the tear film properly.

Sources: blickcheck, hylo, deraugenarzt

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