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Dry Eye & Contact Lenses: Do They Mix?

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Should You Leave Your Contact Lenses in the Dust? 

It seems natural that if you suffer from dry eye, you should stick to your glasses and ditch your contact lenses for good. However, in today’s eye care landscape, that is considered an antiquated school of thought. 

Recent advancements in dry eye therapy allow people with chronic dry eyes more options than ever before. Today, there are a number of specialty lenses made specifically for dry eye as well as several dry eye management strategies your optometrist can provide.

So do contact lenses and dry eye mix? Simply put, yes. However, not all contact lenses are created equal. We will look at types of lenses that are best for dry eye, as well as some other strategies that can help.

Dry Eye: A Refresher

Dry eye is a chronic condition that is caused by a lack of sufficient lubrication and moisture on the surface of the eye. It typically causes extreme discomfort and because our tears protect our eyes from bacteria, it increases the risk of damage and infection. 

Causes of Dry Eye

There are ultimately two root causes of dry eye. They are:

Poor Tear Quality

Our tears are made up of three main ingredients: water, an oil called meibum, and mucin, each of which works together to keep our eyes sufficiently lubricated. If one of these elements is underproducing or compromised in any way, it can cause dry eye. 

Inadequate Tear Volume

Tears are produced by several different glands located in and around our eyelids. As we age, our eyes are no longer able to produce as many tears. There are also several medical conditions, such as meibomian gland dysfunction and diabetes, and medications that can hinder the ability to produce the tears we need to keep our eyes lubricated.

Symptoms of Dry Eye

Although the feeling of dry, burning eyes is the most common symptom, dry eye can also result in:

  • A foreign body sensation or “gritty” eyes
  • Mucus in or around your eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Poor night vision 
  • Excessive or constant watery eyes
  • Blurred vision

Specialty Contacts

Thanks to advancements in contact lens technology, many dry eye sufferers can successfully wear contact lenses. However, the key is the type and material of the contact lens. There are a few specialty contact lenses that have been proven successful for people with dry eyes. These include:

close up of woman inserting eye drops

Scleral Lenses

Scleral contact lenses are made of a rigid, gas-permeable material that vaults over the cornea and rests on the sclera or white of the eye. Because the lens does not sit directly on the cornea, it can minimize irritation and be more comfortable for people with dry eye. 

Orthokeratology & CRT Lenses

Orthokeratology lenses or Corneal Refractive Therapy (CRT) lenses are rigid, gas-permeable lenses worn overnight. As you sleep, the lens gently reshapes the cornea, temporarily correcting refractive errors, providing clear, crisp vision the next day. These types of lenses can often be an excellent solution for patients with dry eye, since contacts are not needed during the day.  

Lens Materials

There have been many new advances in contact lens technology in recent years. In addition to specialty contact types, there are varying options in materials and moisture coatings. Some of these include:

Silicone Hydrogel Contact Lenses

Silicone hydrogel lenses are highly porous and absorbent. This allows oxygen to permeate through the contact lens and reach the surface of the eye. Silicone hydrogel lenses don’t allow water to evaporate as quickly and are often better than reducing dry eye than regular hydrogel contacts.

Daily Disposables

Patients with dry eyes often have success with daily wear contact lenses. Because the lenses are thrown away every night, there is less chance of protein buildup that comes with wear and storing. This protein buildup can aggravate the symptoms of dry eye. 

Moisture Technology & Water Content

Although counterintuitive, contact lenses with high water content levels can worsen the symptoms of dry eye. This is because they draw moisture from the eye into the absorbent lens, in an attempt to maintain its moisture level. People who suffer from dry eye are often more comfortable with contact lenses with a lower level of moisture.

Cleaning, Storing, & Maintenance

If you have dry eye and wear contact lenses, you will have the best success if you maintain a healthy and hygienic maintenance routine. Some tips include:

Lens Solutions & Eye Drops

There are many contact lens solutions and eye drops on the market, each touting different results. If you feel your eyes are unusually dry, trying changing it up. Look for preservative-free options that contain less harmful irritants.


Whether you have daily disposable contacts or extended-wear lenses, ensure you are wearing them according to your optometrists or manufacturer’s instructions. Overwearing your contacts can lead to protein buildup and can inhibit the oxygen supply to your eye – both of which can intensify dry eye symptoms.

Clean Your Case Regularly

To ensure your contacts are free of bacteria and other irritants, clean and disinfect your case regularly. Dirty contact lenses can quickly lead to possible eye infection and general discomfort.

Other Strategies to Alleviate Dry Eye Symptoms

If you are a contact lens wearer with dry eye, here are some other strategies that may help make wearing your contact lenses more comfortable.

Limit Screen Time

Digital Eye Strain is becoming increasingly prevalent with the advent of digital devices. If you already suffer from dry eye, wear contact lenses, and work on digital devices for extended periods of the day, your eyes may suffer the consequences. 

If you are unable to limit your screen time, the American Optometric Association suggests that individuals who use digital devices follow the 20/20/20 rule: Every 20 minutes, you should take a 20-second break and shift your focus to an object that is at least 20 feet away from you.

Diet & Nutrition

Although studies are ongoing, some say that supplements or a diet rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can help lessen the symptoms of dry eye.

Wear Sunglasses

To protect your eyes when outdoors, wear fully protective sunglasses at all times. Sunglasses protect our eyes from wind, dust, and harmful UV rays


If your eyes feel dry, there may be some things you can do in your space to alleviate discomfort. Things like using a humidifier, ensuring you aren’t close to a heating or air conditioning vent, and keeping your home dust-free as possible can all help to reduce dry eye.

Written by Benjamin Teller

Dr. Teller earned his doctorate in optometry from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry in 1996 and has been helping local residents see clearly ever since. After graduation, Dr. Teller completed an internship with the Hopewell Valley Eye Associates, as well as several externships with the National Naval Medical Center and Katzen Eye Group.

More Articles By Benjamin Teller

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