How To Choose the Best Contacts for Dry Eyes

You don't have to swear off contact if you have dry eyes completely.

Dry eyes are uncomfortable for anyone. Any eye problem can be even more annoying when you wear contacts. 

With dry eyes, your contacts can feel irritating. Normally, you probably don't even notice the feel of your contacts. However, contacts can also contribute to dry eyes.

Here's what you need to know about how contacts can cause dry eyes, the best contacts for dry eyes, and some things you can do to help keep your eyes hydrated and feeling good.

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Causes of Dry Eyes

First, a quick eye anatomy lesson: The front of the human eye is covered with a tear film that has a few different layers, Scott P. Drexler, OD, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, told Health.

There's a thin layer of lipids, or fat, on top; a thick layer of water and proteins in the middle; and a layer of mucus on the bottom. Anything that disturbs those layers can result in dry eyes.

Disruptions can come from the environment, medications, computer screens, or even a ceiling fan or air conditioning unit. Natural aging, hormonal changes from menopause, and certain health conditions can also contribute to dry eye, Esen Akpek, MD, a professor of ophthalmology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told Health.

Contacts can also interrupt the eye's natural moisture and either cause or contribute to dry eye.

How Do Contacts Cause Dry Eyes?

Think of soft contacts like sponges, said Dr. Drexler. 

"When you take a lens out of a case with solution, it's like a sponge that is fully hydrated," explained Dr. Drexler. "As you wear the lens, normal evaporation from the air around you and other things, like ceiling fans or air conditioning, take moisture out of the lens. Your eye has to replace it from the tear film."

When your eyes can't keep up with the tear production, which is the hallmark characteristic of dry eye syndrome, dryness ensues. For example, people who wear contacts may start blinking a lot toward the end of the day. Their eyes are trying to get more moisture to the lens.

Contacts can also irritate alongside the lid margin, particularly where the edge of the lens touches the bottom lid, said Dr. Akpek. That constant rubbing can inflame the glands and lead to dry eyes.

Finally, contacts also cause dry eyes by decreasing corneal sensation, said Dr. Akpek. When you constantly have something sitting on your cornea, it has to adjust. 

"In order for a person to be able to tolerate them, corneal sensation goes down," explained Dr. Akpek. That may decrease tear secretion and regeneration of the corneal epithelial cells. Those are the surface cells that protect the cornea.

"Like the skin, corneal skin is shed on a regular basis. Every seven to 10 days the entire corneal epithelial layer renews itself," said Dr. Akpek. "If there's a decrease in corneal sensation, regeneration is delayed."

You may not necessarily feel dryness or discomfort because of the reduced sensation. So, you might not recognize something is wrong until it's really wrong.

How To Find the Best Contacts for Dry Eyes

Having dry eyes doesn't mean you're destined to have a life of irritated eyes if you wear contacts. Certain features in your contacts can make them better (or worse) at keeping your eyes hydrated.

There are two big factors that optometrists consider when prescribing contacts, said Dr. Drexler. 

First, oxygen transmission is how much air gets through the lens. If a contact lens has low oxygen transmission, dryness can ensue. In the long term, oxygen transmission can impact the health of the cornea.

"When you put a lens on an eye, it covers the cornea. The cornea gets nutrition from tear film and the air around it, so we want the air to go through the lens to get to the cornea and keep it healthy," said Dr. Drexler. 

Second, contacts with low water content can help improve dry eyes. Those contacts require less water from your eye to stay hydrated, noted Dr. Drexler.

Certain materials and technologies help increase moisture and keep your eyes moist. Some contacts are made of silicone hydrogel, added Dr. Wexler. Silicone is resistant to moisture loss. So, those contacts stay moist longer than others. Some contacts also have a special coating on the surface that retains moisture.

A few specific types of soft contacts use those materials and technologies. Some of those contacts include Acuvue OasysBiofinity Energys, and Air Optix Aqua Hydraglyde.

Keep in mind: Before you make any changes to your eye care routine, check with an optometrist. You will need a prescription for contacts before buying a pair.

Proper fit is important, too. Fit refers to how tight the contact lens is and how large an area it covers. 

"[Fit] is important because if a lens is too large, there's more of a chance it will rub in the wrong places and cause inflammation and even swelling," explained Dr. Akpek.

Even though different contact brands are made from similar materials, the lens manufacturing design can differ. So, all contacts fit a bit differently, noted Dr. Drexler. Therefore, you should always get a proper contact fitting with an optometrist.

How To Reduce Dry Eyes From Contacts

Using contacts that fit your eye health needs is important. Still, how you wear contacts and take care of them when they're not in your eyes can also have an impact. The following tips can help you care for your contacts if you deal with dry eye:

  • Check your solution: Some people find that their contact solution aggravates eyes and contributes to dryness, said Dr. Drexler. Chemicals from multipurpose solutions absorb into contacts when you store them. So, when you put the contacts in, the solution also enters your eyes, which can be irritating. Switch to a name-brand solution since they tend to have low pH and chemical levels, said Dr. Drexler.
  • Replace your contacts when you're supposed to: If you have dailies, throw them out every night. If you have biweeklies, set a reminder in your calendar every two weeks to toss the old pair. Then, start with a fresh one. If you wear your contacts longer than they're meant to be worn, they'll get dry, pointed out Dr. Drexler.
  • Change the storage solution daily: Some people don't change the multipurpose solution in their cases, noted Dr. Drexler. However, you should dump and refresh the storage solution every night. "Solution has properties to keep the lenses clean and moist," said Dr. Drexler. "So, if you're not replacing it every time, you're basically putting the lenses in an ineffective medium."
  • Use rewetting drops: If your eyes get dry throughout the day, use lubricating eye drops made for soft contacts.
  • Take blinking breaks: Taking visual breaks can help with dry eye. Make it a point to stop focusing on the screen, blink a few times, and use rewetting drops before you start focusing again. "When you stare at a computer all day, you don't blink as much, and when you don't blink, there's more water evaporation and more dryness," said Dr. Drexler.

Keep in mind that everyone's eyes are different. The contacts that fit and feel comfortable in your eyes will be different from what works for someone else.

An optometrist can figure out what to try next (and next, and next) if your contacts make your eyes dry. They'll also figure out if something else contributes to your dry eyes.

A Quick Review

For many people, contacts can cause or exacerbate dry eye. Fortunately, you can reduce that risk by getting well-fitting contacts with high oxygen transmission and low water content. Work with an optometrist to find the best contacts for your eyes.

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Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Ophthalmology. What is dry eye? Symptoms, causes and treatment.

  2. Koh S. Contact Lens Wear and Dry Eye: Beyond the KnownAsia Pac J Ophthalmol (Phila). 2020;9(6):498-504. doi:10.1097/APO.0000000000000329

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