While modern contact lenses are designed to be very comfortable for most wearers, it is not uncommon to experience some discomfort. In fact, about half of former contact lens users report that they stopped wearing their lenses because they were uncomfortable.
But don't grab those glasses just yet! There are several different causes for contact lens discomfort, many with simple solutions. With a little help from your eye care professional, you will most likely be feeling and seeing great in no time!
Read on to learn more about the most common causes of contact lens discomfort.
Contact lenses are not one-size-fits-all. There are two numbers in your prescription that determine the size of your lens: the diameter, and the base curve, both of which are measured in millimeters.
When you saw your eye care professional for your contact lens fitting, he or she took measurements of your eye and prescribed contact lenses that seemed the best match for your eyes' size and shape. Sometimes this initial prescription is not perfect, and the size may need to be adjusted.
If you feel like something is in your eye whenever you wear your contacts or if you feel like the lens is sliding around in your eye, it is possible that your lenses are not quite the right size for you. If the lens is too large, it will not sit properly on the eye and will be dislodged by the motion of your eyelid when you blink. This can feel very uncomfortable and, if left untreated, can cause irritations. It is important to return to your eye doctor for a new prescription if you believe your lenses might be the wrong size.
If you feel like something is in your eye whenever you wear your contacts or if you feel like the lens is sliding around in your eye, it could also simply mean that your contact lenses are inside out. Always check the lens to make sure that it is the correct curvature side before placing them into your eyes.
Improperly used or cared for lenses
Contact lenses must be used as directed for maximum comfort. Unless you are using daily disposables, your lenses must be cleaned every night to remove lipid and protein deposits, which accumulate naturally from your tears.
You must also make sure you are following the manufacturer's guidelines for wearing and replacement of the lenses. Do not wear your contacts for longer than recommended (for example, do not wear the lenses overnight unless they are specifically designed for it), and do not try to extend the life of your contact lenses. If a lens was meant to be replaced every 2 weeks, for example, do not wear them for 3 or more weeks. Extending the life of the contact lenses can cause corneal hypoxia (depriving the cornea of adequate oxygen supply) and cause swelling and the cornea to become hazy. Contact lenses need to be replaced as directed by your doctor and manufacturer of the lens.
A little common sense about lens care will also go a long way. When cleaning your lenses, only use an appropriate contact lens solution and use fresh solution each day. Never use tap water with soft contact lenses because contaminants from tap water can be deposited into your soft contact lens. This is not true for rigid contact lenses however. Wash your hands before handling your contact lenses, and keep your fingernails short and smooth so that you do not damage your lenses or eyes during insertion and removal. If you will be using aerosol products, such as hairspray, during your morning routine, do so before inserting your lenses whenever possible.
Contact lens solution sensitivity
There are many different contact lens solutions available to consumers at the stores. Some are name brand and others are off label generic brands. It is important to head your optometrists advice as to which contact lens solution to use. Most of the times they will dispense a sample of their recommended contact lens solutions after your exam. Studies have been done to prove that generic solutions do not clean and do not kill the microbes as well as the name grand solutions. Some people also develop allergies to preservatives in contact lens solutions. Symptoms include red, itchy eyes while wearing contact lenses. There are preservative-free solutions available. Check with your optometrist to see which one they would recommend for you.
If your eyes are not properly lubricated with tears, your lenses will likely cause you discomfort like foreign body sensation. Fortunately, many cases of dry eye can be treated with over-the-counter or prescription eye drops. However, you should speak to your eye care professional before using any eye drops, as not all drops are compatible with all contact lenses.
Causes of dry eyes include:
- Caffeine or alcohol consumption
- Frequent computer use (sometimes called "Computer Vision Syndrome")
- Prescription and over-the-counter medications (including antihistamines, decongestants, blood pressure medications, sleeping pills, birth control pills, certain antidepressants, some acne medications, and opiate-based pain relievers)
- Medical conditions (including Sjogren's syndrome, diabetes, thyroid problems, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, menopausal hormone changes, vitamin A deficiency, and certain skin conditions)
- Refractive surgery, such as LASIK
There are many different types of contact lenses available, some offer more moisture than others and are more comfortable. Some contact lens solutions can also keep the contact lenses more moisturized throughout the day as well. Consult with your optometrist to see what your options are.
Allergens and dust
If you have allergies, allergens in your environment, such as pollen or animal dander, it can stick to your lenses and irritate your eyes. Similarly, if your work environment is very dusty, dust particles can accumulate on your lenses. You can minimize these problems by keeping your contact lenses as clean as possible (which may mean cleaning more frequently or with a different method or solution), or by switching to daily disposable lenses. Ocular allergies can also make your conjunctiva swell and cause contact lens wear to be very uncomfortable. Consult with your optometrist and they will likely prescribe an allergy eye drop to relieve your ocular allergies.
Other underlying medical conditions
If your eyes are not healthy, your contact lenses will not be comfortable. If you are experiencing eye pain or discharge and/or have red or swollen eyes, you should stop wearing your lenses and see your eye doctor as soon as possible. You most likely have an eye infection or other condition that requires immediate treatment. Untreated eye infections can potentially lead to scaring of the cornea and permanent vision loss.
Diagnosing your contact lens discomfort
If your contact lenses are uncomfortable, be sure to see your eye care professional as soon as possible to discuss possible causes and solutions. Don't put off the visit because you are afraid of the outcome; remember that most problems can be solved with simple remedies such as a new prescription, changes in your lens care routine, or eye drops. It is very unlikely that you will be told to stop wearing contact lenses altogether.
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