Allergies are no picnic for anyone, but they can be especially hard on contact lens wearers. About 75 percent of allergy symptoms directly affect the eyes. Symptoms of allergies can include dry eyes, itchy eyes, puffy eyes and red eyes, and sometimes it seems like contact lenses make the problem worse. You might be tempted to ditch your lenses and go back to eyeglasses for the allergen-heavy months, but there’s actually no need to do that. Here’s some advice on how to deal with allergies with contact lenses so you don’t have to break out the spectacles.
Take preventative measures against your allergies.
Whether your allergies are seasonal or year-round, try to avoid whatever it is you’re allergic to whenever possible. This may seem like simple advice, but sometimes the solution to your allergy symptoms is as basic as saying no to adopting a cat, postponing cleaning out your dusty attic, or not taking a hike through the pollen-filled forest in springtime. Avoiding the cause can save you the trouble of trying to treat the symptoms of your allergies. Sometimes avoiding the cause completely isn’t a realistic goal. However, you can still try to minimize the amount of contact you have with allergens.
When it comes to contact lenses and allergies, cleanliness is key. Most importantly, don’t touch or rub your eyes when wearing your contact lenses. The moist surfaces of contact lenses allow allergens such as spores, pollens and dust to stick to them, and rubbing pushes those allergens into your eyes. Allergens such as dust and pollen can also build up on your contact lenses over time. This is why, if you’re leaving your lenses in for long periods of time, proper contact lens care is especially important. Clean and disinfect your lenses regularly. If your current lens care regimen isn’t providing relief, ask your eye doctor to recommend a different lens care solution.
If you’re cleaning and replacing your contact lenses frequently and still suffering from intense allergy symptoms, consider switching to daily disposable lenses. One-day disposable lenses don’t require lens care, and since you throw them out after each use, they don’t allow for as much allergen build-up. Replacing your lenses regularly with fresh, clean ones can help relieve your symptoms and keep allergens and other irritants out of your eyes.
Daily disposable contact lenses can be slightly more expensive than continuous wear or reusable lenses, depending on your prescription and other factors. In allergy season though, the advantages far outweigh the increase in cost. Disposable lenses will relieve a lot of the irritation allergens cause. You’ll be saving money by not paying for cleaning solutions and other lens care products, and there’s an added bonus: the convenience of not having to clean your contact lenses. With the wide variety of contacts available, you should be able to find daily disposable lenses that match your prescription.
Itchy eyes are a troublesome allergy symptom. Although it’s tempting, it’s important to avoid scratching or rubbing your eyes, especially if you’re wearing contact lenses. Touching or rubbing your eyes will make the symptoms worse and will dirty your lenses, increasing irritation.
Dry eyes and itchy eyes usually go hand in hand. To keep your eyes from drying out, which will increase the itchiness and discomfort you feel, try using artificial tears or lubricating eye drops. The right eye drops will keep your eyes moist and hydrated—sweet relief to dry, burning eyes. Be sure that the solution you use to keep your eyes moist is compatible with your lenses. Talk to your doctor about which eye drops you can safely use. Artificial tears, also called lubricating eye drops, are inexpensive and are usually available over the counter.
If necessary, ask your eye doctor about prescription eye drops which can treat your allergy symptoms more directly. Allergy eye drops reduce histamines, the chemicals your body produces in response to allergens. Antihistamine eye drops should only be applied after you take your contact lenses out. These eye drops will provide relief for many of your allergy symptoms, but you may need to apply them multiple times per day.
Decongestant eye drops, also known as whitening eye drops, can help treat eye redness temporarily. However, talk to a doctor before using them. Used excessively, decongestant eye drops can make your allergy symptoms worse by causing dryness and irritation.
There are two types of anti-inflammatory eye drops, which can be used to treat itchy eyes: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroids. NSAID eye drops affect the eyes’ nerve endings, changing the way your body reacts to the allergen making your eyes feel itchy. Corticosteroid eye drops are used to treat severe eye allergy symptoms. These eye drops are usually only necessary for treating severe allergies, and prolonged use of them is not recommended.
Some types of allergy eye drops can be purchased over the counter, although prescription-strength allergy eye drops are also available. Whether you choose prescription strength or over-the-counter allergy eye drops, remember that long-term use of them can actually make some of your symptoms worse. Only use allergy eye drops for a few days at a time. If you have severe allergies and the eye drops aren’t providing enough relief, your eye doctor may also prescribe oral medications in addition to these treatments.
With the right contact lenses and proper lens and eye care, you’ll find that allergies don’t have to be a hindrance to wearing contacts and feeling comfortable. Talk to your eye doctor if you’re experiencing allergy symptoms or if you need additional help finding the best product for your allergy treatment needs.
Updated Aug 26th, 2015
Clay Mattson, O.D. has been practicing optometry at EyeMax in Nicholasville and Lexington, KY since 2000. Dr. Mattson also serves as a consultant, lecturer, author and advisor to the eye care industry and to other eye doctors.