May 18, 2022 | Basecamp, Contacts

What To Do About Dry Eye From Contacts

By Barrett Eubanks, M.D.

What To Do About Dry Eye From Contacts

Trust me, you aren’t alone. Many people suffer from dry eye with their contact lenses. In fact, contact lens irritation is a very common reason many people just stop wearing contact lenses altogether. But can anything be done about it?

Conventional contact lenses will collect deposits over time. These deposits can irritate and dry out your eyes. In addition, the cleaning solution for these contacts can also irritate the eyes. Many contact lens users can experience relief by switching over to daily-disposable contact lenses to avoid these issues.

But even beyond daily-disposable contact lenses, there are ways to help treat the dry eye and improve your comfort with contact lenses. There is even a very special contact lens which can be used with even the most severe dry eye patients! All of this can make dry eye from contact lenses a thing of the past.

Why Is Dry Eye A Problem?

Dry eye is a very common condition. Dry eye affects somewhere between 5% and 50% of the population but if you are just looking at signs of dry eye, it can affect up to 75% of people!

The causes of dry eye are multi-factorial but fall into two main categories: you either don't produce enough tears (called aqueous deficiency) or your tears evaporate too quickly (evaporative dysfunction). There is a vast amount of factors which can cause either of these two categories including:

  • Medications such as antihypertensives and antihistamines
  • Eyedrops, especially for those with chronic conditions such as glaucoma
  • Medical conditions such as Sjögren Syndrome
  • Dry environmental conditions
  • Decreased blink rate, such as when working on computers
  • And contact lenses are a cause of dry eye

Why Do Contacts Cause Dry Eye?

The biggest issue with conventional re-usable contact lenses is the build up of deposits on the lenses. These deposits are just normal debris that encounters your eye or on your fingers when you touch your contact lens.

While soft contact lenses are more comfortable than rigid contact lenses, the soft material allows for an easier build up of deposits. These deposits make the contact lens more uncomfortable over time and can increase the risk of infection. But beyond just making your eye uncomfortable, these deposits also cause your eye to dry out.

To take care of these deposits, conventional soft contacts lenses must be cleaned and disinfected daily. This cleaning process requires high compliance and many people actually fail to perform this process correctly. Poor cleaning means the deposits build up quicker on the contact lens - meaning more irritation to your eyes.

Contact lenses replaced on a planned schedule (such as every 2 weeks or every month), help reduce some of these compliance issues and prevent the build up of too much deposits.

But even with perfect cleaning and regular changing of your contact lenses, some contact lens users will react to multipurpose lens care solution and have discomfort and irritation. If you have an allergy or irritation to your contact lens solution, talk with your eye doctor about switching to a hydrogen peroxide based solution. Used with its special case, the hydrogen peroxide cleans the contact lens and breaks down to saline over time. Be sure to follow the instructions to avoid eye injury from the hydrogen peroxide!

Hydrogen Peroxide Contact Lens Solution; Image courtesy of

Lastly, continued use of contact lenses can actually cause more dry eye issues over time. Within the eyelid are tiny glands called meibomian glands that secrete oils to coat the surface of the eye and protect the tear film from evaporation. Contact lens use can damage these glands over time causing meibomian gland dysfunction. This can in turn lead to more issues with dry eye.

The Best Contact Lens For Dry Eye

Daily disposable contact lenses offer the convenience of contact lenses without the extra hassle of daily care and potential irritation of the build-up of deposits or irritation from lens care solution. These allow for daily disposable contact lenses to cause less dry eye than conventional contact lenses.

But not all contact lenses are the same. Even among daily disposable contact lenses, differences in lens design and material properties all affect the comfort level of the contact lens and how much dry eye the contact lens produces. For example Acuvue 1-Day daily disposable contact lenses were rated as more comfortable than Focus dailies.

On top of this, the contact lens must fit well on the surface of the eye. A poor fitting contact lens will move around on your eye and cause constant irritation of the surface. All of this underscores the need for a proper contact lens fitting appointment when trying contact lenses for the first time or trying out different brands.

If you can't last very long even in daily disposable contact lenses and have tried different brands with no luck, your eyes are likely too dry for contact lenses. However, there is hope. Dry eye causes extra inflammation on the surface of the eye. This extra inflammation causes your eye to dry out even more. This leads to a vicious negative cycle of dryness. By aggressively treating the dry eye, one can actually improve their dry eye and allow it to heal up. If healed up enough, this can allow for contact lens use again in the future.

How do you treat this dry eye so that contact lenses become more comfortable? The best first place to start is to use frequent preservative-free artificial tears. These help replenish your tear film to allow the dry eye to heal up. But beyond that there are many other ways to treat dry eye such prescription medications, eyelid scrubs, omega-3 supplements, and even tiny eyelid plugs. For the optimal solution for you, it is best to visit your eye doctor.

The Ultimate Contact Lens For Dry Eye - Scleral Lenses

There is another lens which is worth mentioning (although many people won’t need to go this route to achieve contact lens comfort). This lens is known as a scleral contact lens.

A scleral contact lens works differently from a soft contact lens. For one, this lens is rigid. This lens doesn’t conform to the surface of the eye like a soft contact lens will. The second key point to this lens is that is is much much larger than a soft contact lens. The lens will actually rest on the white part of the eye on the conjunctiva and sclera (giving the lens its name).

By resting on the sclera, the lens will vault over the cornea instead of resting on the cornea. A small empty space exists between this lens and the cornea. This space actually fills with your tears. And in effect, it’s hard for the cornea to dry out because tears are constantly on the surface. Thus, this lens can be used to help treat patients with severe dry eye disease. But the vast majority won’t need to go this specialty contact lens route to help improve their contact lens related dry eye.


Dry eye and irritation from contact lenses can be annoying to downright frustrating. Over time, deposits can build up on soft contact lenses and these deposits can cause eye irritation. Proper contact lens hygiene and maintenance can help but daily disposable contact lenses can solve those common issues with contact lenses.

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