Wearing contact lenses can contribute to or worsen dry eye symptoms. People can use eye drops, practice appropriate lens hygiene, and try home remedies to reduce symptoms.

The National Eye Institute (NEI) explains that millions of Americans experience dry eye disease, where their tears stop working properly. People with dry eyes may experience a gritty, stinging, or burning feeling in their eyes and blurry vision. Their eyes may also be red and sensitive to light.

Doctors may suggest lifestyle changes to help reduce a person’s symptoms. They may also recommend prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops to help lubricate the surface of the eyes.

This article suggests ways of managing contact lens wear and dry eyes. It also explains the different types of lenses available and contact lens hygiene.

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Contact lenses sit on the surface of the eyes, and many people find them a convenient alternative to wearing glasses. However, the NEI notes that wearing contact lenses increases a person’s risk of developing dry eye, and the discomfort causes many to stop using them.

Tears keep the eye’s surfaces moist and help allow clear vision. Tears create a film that spreads across the eye’s surface, known as the cornea, when a person blinks.

A 2020 paper from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) explains that the outer surface of the tear film is slightly oily, with wetter layers underneath.

Contact lenses sit in the middle of the tear film but disrupt its function and stability. According to a 2018 paper, this can cause friction between the lens and the surface of the person’s eye. Without the oily coating, tears also evaporate more quickly, leading to dry eyes.

According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), many people find switching to daily, disposable lenses helps. Alternatively, changing to a hydrogen peroxide-based cleaning system may make the lenses more comfortable.

A 2017 paper from the NCBI also recommends using lubricating eye drops to reduce friction between the lens and cornea.

The AOA adds that looking at digital devices for long periods can dry a person’s eyes and recommends the 20-20-20 rule. For every 20 minutes of screen time, people should look at an object about 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.

Choose the right contact lenses

Optometrists advise people about contact lenses. They consider a person’s prescription requirements, lifestyle, eye health, and how regularly they intend to wear them.

The AOA explains that there are two main types of contact lenses: soft disposable and rigid gas permeable.

The organization explains that while soft lenses may feel more comfortable, they do not correct all vision problems. Additionally, rigid lenses may give sharper vision.

However, the results from the 2017 paper show that people wearing disposable contact lenses experienced fewer dry eye symptoms.

Practice contact lens hygiene

Different types of contact lenses need different care routines, but the principles of lens hygiene are the same for all. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following steps:

  • Wash hands with soap and water before touching the lenses. Dry hands on a clean cloth.
  • Do not allow water to touch the lenses. This includes not rinsing lenses in water and avoiding swimming or showering in them.
  • Take care of any storage cases by rubbing and rinsing them with contact lens solutions and allowing them to air dry.
  • Replace storage cases at least every 3 months.

Home treatments

The following simple home remedies can relieve dry eye:

  • Apply a warm compress. A 2019 study found that using a hot, moist compress on the eyes led to reduced discomfort and that people could wear their lenses for longer periods.
  • Wash the eyelids with diluted baby shampoo.
  • Take regular breaks from computer screens.
  • Gently massage the eyelids.

Learn more about treating dry eyes naturally.

OTC medications

Many people find that eye drops lubricate the eyes, relieving dry eye symptoms. Many are available without a prescription.

People can also buy lubricating gels and ointments, such as Refresh Lacri-lube or Liquigel, that they apply to their eyelids. These can cause blurred vision, so doctors recommend using them before sleeping, once a person has removed their contact lenses.

Prescription medications

Doctors may prescribe medications for people with dry eyes. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, these include:

According to the CDC, having dry eyes and wearing contact lenses can permanently damage a person’s cornea. They recommend people remove their contact lenses if their eyes are irritated and speak with their eye doctor if their symptoms do not improve within a few hours.

Signs to look out for include:

Find eye health information and resources.

Contact lenses can irritate people’s eyes, causing dry eye.

People can relieve the symptoms by practicing appropriate contact lens hygiene and reducing wearing time. They may also find relief from using a warm compress on the eyes, taking regular screen breaks, and massaging the eye area.

OTC eye drops can help keep the eyes lubricated. Doctors may also prescribe eye drops or nasal spray medications to increase tear production or decrease inflammation.