Tears are more important than we might think, they play a crucial role in supporting the health of our eyes. When we blink, for example, tears spread across the front surface of the eye; called the cornea. This lubricates and nourishes the eye, washing away foreign matter and helping to prevent infections. They also keep the surface of the eye smooth for clear vision.

Dry eye, however, is a condition in which the quality or quantity of tears is inadequate to maintain the right amount of lubrication and, as a result, good corneal health.

If you regularly struggle with dry eye, wearing contact lenses might seem like the last thing on your mind. However, with the right care advice, you can still go about your daily business wearing contacts safely and comfortably.

Common dry eye symptoms

Dry eye can cause several symptoms including:

Each of these symptoms might deter you from wearing contact lenses; the last thing you’d want is to feel like something else is in your eye. However, not all contact lenses are the same, so it’s worth noting that even if one type does not work for you, others can be tried before giving up on contact lens use.

Can contact lenses induce dry eyes?

Despite the introduction of advanced lens materials, some contact lens users still experience dryness and discomfort, especially at the end of the day.

In fact, dry eyes due to contact lens usage are one of the most common reasons for discontinuing lens wear permanently.1

Contacts can cause dry eye because the presence of the lens on the cornea limits oxygen flow into the eye — it’s oxygen that’s necessary to develop natural tears. The lens material also limits tear exchange between the outer and inner layers.2

However, lenses such as easyvision daily umere and Dailies Total, are made from silicone hydrogel which allow more oxygen to pass through to the cornea and reduce dehydration during lens wear. These advanced materials with oxygen transmissibility allow many people with dry eye to continue using contact lenses without symptoms.

Are hard or soft contact lenses better for dry eyes?

Soft contacts are better and more comfortable for people with dry eyes. This is because they are made of hydrogel which contains water, and can help keep moisture in the eye as it allows oxygen to pass through.

If you’re interested in finding out more about soft contact lenses, get in touch with your local store and one of our experts will guide you through your options.

What contact lenses should I wear for dry sensitive eyes?

Special contact lenses are designed to work with easily irritated and dry eyes. The lens material in these contacts retains moisture, resists deposits, and draws more oxygen into the eyes to make all-day use comfortable even for people with dry and sensitive eyes. Some contact lenses for dry sensitive eyes include:

Other contacts for sensitive eyes

Rigid gas-permeable (hard) contact lenses

These are more durable and transparent with good oxygen permeability, which helps to let more oxygen enter the eye and avoid irritation. But these can be more difficult to adjust to initially and can be less comfortable to wear long-term.

Daily contact lenses

The use of daily disposables can, according to clinical research, reduce dryness in the eyes and improve comfort with fewer uncomfortable hours of wear.2 Deposits of proteins, dirt, bacteria, and allergens on the surface of contact lenses are the main cause of eye irritation and discomfort in people with sensitive or dry eyes. Daily disposable contact lenses are less likely to develop this problem since they are changed for a fresh new pair every day – so there isn’t enough time for the deposits to form. 

Monthly contact lenses

Monthly contact lenses use unique technologies that help to create a high level of comfort, often by retaining more water than regular contact lenses, keeping eyes moist and comfortable. 

Contact lenses for astigmatism and dry eyes

Toric lenses for astigmatism made with silicone hydrogel material and replaced on a daily disposable schedule are likely to work best for people with dry eyes. These breathable contacts are designed to retain water and keep the eyes lubricated throughout the day.

Several brands offer toric lenses for dry eyes, including:

Multifocal contact lenses for dry eyes

People with dry eyes can wear multifocal contact lenses such as Air Optix plus Hydraglyde Multifocal, which are designed to retain moisture and keep out irritating deposits.

What can cause irritation to sensitive eyes when wearing contact lenses?

Eyes can become irritated for several reasons, including exposure to dust, smoke, pollen, fur, and other environmental allergens. These can stick to the surface of the contact lens, making the eye feel uncomfortable. Some of the symptoms of sensitive eyes may include stinging, burning, irritation, pain, gritty sensation, unusual secretions, and blurred vision.

Contact lens aftercare with dry eyes

Lens care routine

If you’re experiencing symptoms of dry eyes while using twice monthly or monthly contact lenses, you should review your lens care routine.

Thorough cleaning and proper storage of contact lenses can ensure the best possible surface quality with the least amount of deposits, helping to reduce the amount of irritation you feel.

Switching lenses

If you’re already practicing good hygiene and looking after your lenses properly, but still have sensitive eye symptoms, your optician might suggest you switch to daily disposables, which are less likely to be irritating, or try lenses made of silicone hydrogel.

Some trial and error may also be necessary to get the best lens option for you, and so they may even try you on lenses of varying water content.

Eye drops

There are different types of prescription and over-the-counter eye drops may allow you to continue wearing contact lenses without symptoms:

  • Cyclosporine/Ikervis - These are prescription eye drops that increases tear production. It’s useful in people with contact lens associated dry eyes, however it can take 3-6 months to see the benefits. The eye drops must be instilled in the eyes 15 minutes before inserting contact lenses, and cannot be used while the lenses are in the eyes.
  • Alrex/Lotemax - This is a combination of steroid medication and loteprednol. Many optometrists avoid using Alrex in contact lens wearers due to the risks associated with steroids. However, these eye drops are particularly effective for symptoms of dry eye provoked by seasonal allergies and may be suitable for short-term use.
  • Rewetting drops - These are designed specifically to improve comfort with contact lens wear and increase wear time. They work best when used on a schedule and can be instilled as frequently as once every 1-2 hours.
  • Artificial tears - Available over the counter, these drops lubricate the eyes and provide short-term relief from dry eye symptoms. They can be used up to six times a day.

It’s best to consult your optician before using any eye drops because not all of them are suitable for contact lens wearers. Always use eye drops as recommended (some can be used with the lenses in the eyes, while others have to be applied at least 15 minutes before wearing them).

Order contact lenses

When looking for a contact lens to wear (especially if you have dry or sensitive eyes) there are a number of important factors to consider — including comfort, wear time, handling, cost and clarity of vision. You can find more information on how to pick the best lens for you on our page. Alternatively, book an appointment with one of our opticians, and they’ll be able to advise you further.

  1. Muntz A, Subbaraman LN, Sorbara L, Jones L. Tear exchange and contact lenses: a review. J Optom. 2015;8(1):2–11. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4314619/ [Accessed 24 October 2019].
  2. Riley C, Young G, Chalmers R. (no date). Prevalence of ocular surface symptoms, signs, and uncomfortable hours of wear in contact lens wearers: the effect of refitting with daily-wear silicone hydrogel lenses (senofilcon a). Eye Contact Lens. 2006 Dec;32(6):281-6. [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17099389 [Accessed 24 October 2019].