When working effectively, your contact lenses should be comfortable, moist and wearable for eighteen hours or more. If your contacts are causing you discomfort or irritation, there are a few possible reasons why.

If you’re healthy and your lenses are new, it’s possible the lens itself is defective. Most manufacturers offer warranties or other guarantees against this kind of problem, allowing dissatisfied users to get a replacement or refund. In some cases, hard and RGP lenses can be fixed with a re-polishing. Sometimes a new lens can be uncomfortable because it doesn’t fit properly. Lenses can be too tight, too loose or too thick. They can also have unintentionally sharp edges or the prescription itself can be wrong. Should these kinds of complications arise, be sure to see your eye doctor as soon as possible.

Potentially Serious Problems

Most complaints eye doctors hear, like lens discomfort, are minor and easy to fix. But there are complications related to wearing contact lenses that can lead to more serious health issues. Symptoms that can indicate a more serious condition include pain, irritation, sensitivity to light, redness, discharge, swelling and blurred vision. While this doesn’t necessarily mean something serious is wrong, you should consult an eye doctor immediately. If not attended to right away, a serious eye infection could arise.

Cue scary music.

Corneal Abrasion

A corneal abrasion is a common problem that can happen when abrasive particles get trapped underneath a contact lens, causing scratches or nicks to the cornea. This is most frequent with RGP and hard lenses. Corneal abrasions can also occur from wearing lenses with rough or sharp objects. If the pain associated with a corneal abrasion continues, you may need medical treatment. Severe corneal abrasions that are not treated may lead to a vision-threatening corneal ulcer. Yikes.

Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry eye syndrome is another common issue where contact lens wear causes your eyes to not produce enough tears to keep your eyes lubricated. Dehydration can lead to lens discomfort, a lack of oxygen transmission, and an increased risk of infection. Dry eyes can be caused by a number of things like increased alcohol consumption, oral contraceptives and dry, windy weather. If the problem persists, cut down on your lens wearing time, and use eye drops. Be sure to consult your eye doctor if you experience any symptoms.


Conjunctivitis is an infection or inflammation of the membrane lining the inside of the eyelids and connected to the sclera. Conjunctivitis is usually caused by lenses that are not kept clean and disinfected, or lenses that are inserted with dirty hands. Symptoms of conjunctivitis include redness, a burning sensation and discharge from the eye that causes the eyelids to stick together. Warm compresses can be an effective treatment, but in some cases, you’ll need medical attention. If discharge become a problem, stop wearing your lenses immediately. Double yikes.


Keratitis is the inflammation and infection of the cornea that can have complications that threaten the loss of vision. Common side effects of keratitis include pain and sensitivity to light. It is common in soft lenses that are not properly cleaned and disinfected, or lenses that have been rinsed with contaminated water. Keratitis always requires medical attention and may need emergency care in severe situations. Not good at all.

Corneal Edema

A corneal edema is a swelling of the cornea caused by a lack of oxygen often resulting from improper use of extended wear lenses. Symptoms of a corneal edema include hazy vision, halos around lights, and mild pain when you take your lenses out. Without proper attention, a corneal edema can cause infection or permanent scarring. In the case of a corneal edema, taking out your lenses or switching to disposable daily wear lenses can alleviate symptoms.

Seeing halos around light sources isn’t uncommon among contact lens wearers and shouldn’t be interpreted as an serious threat. These ghost images occur when the pupil is dilated to a larger size than the optical area of a lens. Seeing rainbow lights, however, can be a sign of corneal swelling, indicating that your lenses have been worn for too long and should be taken out.

Blurred vision

Blurred vision in one or both eyes is a more serious condition. If blurred vision occurs in eyes that were clear before, get medical attention immediately. Any other symptom that persists more than temporarily should also be evaluated by a professional.


Blepharitis is a backup of the oil glands on lid margins, often accompanied by the overgrowth of skin bacteria around the eyelashes. A lack of oil in tears produces poor quality tears, leading to dry eye, lens discomfort and a deposit buildup. A warm compress used daily and a side to side scrubbing of the eyelashes with a washcloth and warm water can alleviate symptoms. If the condition continues, be sure to talk to your eye doctor.

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