Contact lenses can be a nightmare for people with dry eyes. In a healthy eye, a thin layer of tears always forms under a contact lens. If this layer dries out, the lens starts feeling like sand. Is this the inevitable price you have to pay for the convenience of contact lenses, or is there a better alternative?
Do contact lenses cause my eyes to dry?
There are several causes for eye dryness. First of all, some people simply produce less tears than others, or their chemical composition of their tears is not adequate. The amount of tears produced usually decreases with age.
Another cause is environmental – if you work in an overheated or air-conditioned room, of if you are exposed to smoke, dust or wind, your eyes will feel dry. Dry eyes are also a problem for most computer users. People tend to blink less when working on the computer and blinking is essential for wetting your eyes.
Finally, some contact lenses can also contribute to dry eye syndrome. Most soft contact lenses are made from polymers and water – sometimes up to 70% water. While it’s this moist, the lens feels comfortable in your eye; but the water evaporates from the lens as the day progresses. So the lens absorbs water from your tears, leaving you with dry-feeling eyes. Generally speaking, the more water the lens contains, the more prone it is to lose its moisture.
Soft contacts that can help with dry eyes
Since dry eyes is a serious problem for many contact lens wearers, lens manufacturers are constantly working to produce contacts that will be comfortable for people with dry eyes.
One way is to reduce the water content of the lens. Modern silicon hydrogel lenses are only about 30% water – much less than the 50-60% of traditional lenses. Also, the new polymers used in contact lenses help the lens to stay moist.
Out of all the lenses formulated for people with dry eyes, Acuvue Oasis and Proclear Compatibles receive the most favorable reviews from wearers.
Acuvue Oasis, by Johnson and Johnson, is specifically formulated for people who work or live in dry environments. It is made of high-quality polymer senofilcon A and contains a special rewetting agent – Hydraclear Plus – that makes the lens feel moist even if your eyes don’t produce enough tears. Acuvue Oasis is a daily wear contact lens (you should take it off at night), and it should be replaced every two weeks.
Proclear Compatibles, by Cooper Vision, is made from omafilcon A, which has demonstrated very high on-eye water retention, during clinical studies. Also, Proclear uses the revolutionary technology of biocompability. The lens contains PC (phosphorylcholine) – a substance that occurs naturally in human cells. It prevents your body from perceiving contact lens as a foreign object in your eye and trying to reject it. As a result, Proclear Compatibles feel moist and silky in your eye and don’t cause dehydration. Proclear are monthly disposable contact lenses.
RGP lenses for people with dry eyes
Some doctors recommend their patients with dry eyes to switch to Rigid Gas Permeable (RGP) contact lenses. The reason is that an RGP lens is made from polymeric materials and don’t contain any water. So water won’t evaporate from the surface of the lens, as with soft lenses. Thus one cause for dry eyes is illuminated.
However, RGP lenses may present other problems for people with dry eyes. Since the lens is rigid, it can irritate your eye if there are not enough tears under it. A rigid lens in a dry eye feels much worse than a soft one.
If you have dry eyes and your current contact lenses don’t feel too comfortable, you don’t have to live with the discomfort. Ask your doctor if the lenses we recommended would work for you.