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Contact Lenses for Dry Eyes: Buying Guide

K Posted on March 26, 2014
 In this article:  - Soft contact lenses for dry eyes
- Benefits of silicone hydrogel lenses
- Eye drop summary

Do your eyes have that itching, burning, stinging feeling? Dry eyes are no picnic, and sometimes, contact lenses only exacerbate the problem. That is, if you don’t have the right lenses. Traditional, rigid contact lenses can increase eye irritation, but there are lots of contact lenses designed specifically for helping alleviate eye dryness. So how do you determine which contact lenses are best for dry eyes?

healthy eyes

Soft Contact Lenses

The best contact lenses for dry eyes are soft contact lenses, as opposed to rigid ones. Soft contacts have been developed over the last few decades and made of special polymers, or plastics, that actually allow the lenses themselves to hold water. These soft polymers also are permeable, allowing oxygen to pass through, quite literally letting your eyes breathe. The cornea has to receive oxygen through the air, as it has no blood vessels of its own. Consequently, oxygen permeability is an extremely important characteristic of contact lenses, especially contact lenses for dry eyes.

The water level of a soft contact lens can vary greatly, from 38% water to over 70% water, so consult with your eye doctor to be sure you’re using the contacts that are best for you. Counterintuitively, soft contacts with a higher “wetness” level, though comfortable, may worsen your dry eye symptoms. Contacts designed to hold 65% water, for example, will wick away moisture from whatever environment they are in—in this case, your already-dry eyes—to maintain that 65% level of moisture. While the lenses will be nice and moist, this will leave your eyes drier than they were before. A soft contact with a low water content level of about 38% will feel comfortable and allow your eyes to breathe without drying them out.

Silicone-Hydrogel Lenses

First introduced in the 1990s, silicone-hydrogel lenses allow even more oxygen to pass through to the cornea than regular soft contacts, and they generally have low water content. Since they need less moisture to remain permeable, silicone-hydrogel lenses can be safely worn for longer periods of time, depending on the kind and brand of lens. Some brands even sell 30-day continuous contact lenses that can be worn day and night for up to a month. Regular silicone-hydrogel daily-disposal lenses are also available, as are lenses that last for a week or two.

The downside of silicone-hydrogel lenses is that the silicone material, though soft, is slightly more rigid than the soft plastics of regular soft contact lenses. Though silicone-hydrogel lenses are often the best contact lenses for dry eyes, they may not immediately provide relief in the form of comfort. And from a consumer perspective, silicone-hydrogel lenses are generally more expensive than other kinds of contact lenses. Still, silicone-hydrogel lenses are the most commonly used contact lenses on the market, and they may be the healthiest lenses for your dry eyes. Consult with your doctor to see if silicone-hydrogels are right for your eyes.
dry eyes

A Note on Eye Drops

The right contact lenses will keep your eyes healthy, will feel more comfortable than rigid lenses, and won’t worsen your dry eye symptoms. Eye drops will actively help to relieve the symptoms. Dry eyes occur when the tear glands are not producing enough tears to keep the eyes sufficiently moist.

Eye drops are essentially artificial tears, and most eye drop products are available without a prescription. But there are dozens of options available when it comes to eye drops, so how do you choose the right one? Let’s take a quick look at the general kinds of eye drops available and the pros and cons of each. Be sure to consult with your eye doctor when determining which products to use.

Quick-Chart Summary of Eye Drops

Preservatives    Preservative-Free    Prescription   
Packaging  Multi-dose bottles,
single and double packs
Single dose,
individual plastic vials
Multi-dose bottles or
single dose, individual plastic vials
Availability   Over the counter Over the counter By doctor’s prescription only
Treatment Good for non-severe dry eyes,
NO sensitivity to preservatives
Good for non-severe dry eyes,
sensitivity to preservatives
Good for severe dry eyes,
increasing tear production,
alleviating severe dryness

 

eye dropsEye Drops with Preservatives

These eye drops generally come in multi-dose bottles. They contain preservatives which prevent the growth of bacteria within the bottle once the eye drops have been opened. The chemicals used to accomplish this often irritate the eye. If you have dry eyes and your eyes are already irritated, preservative-free eye drops would probably be best.

Preservative-Free Eye Drops

Preservative-free eye drops generally come in single-dose bottles, as opposed to multi-dose, and are usually the better option for treating dry eyes. They don’t contain the potentially irritating chemicals of eye drops with preservatives, and they can be safely applied several times per day. If you’re buying over-the-counter treatments for your dry eyes and preservatives irritate your eyes, make sure this is the kind you buy.

Prescription Eye Drops

For severe cases of dry eye, your doctor may recommend you use prescription eye drops that actually encourage tear production as well as functioning as artificial tears. Most cases of dry eye probably won’t require this level of treatment, and your doctor will let you know if such an eye care product is necessary.

Dry eyes are no fun. With the right contact lenses for dry eyes and some additional treatment with eye care products, you may find that caring for and relieving your dry eyes is easier than you think. Be sure to pick the right contact lenses for you, and talk to your doctor about your dry eyes.