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Comfortable Contacts: Making the Most of Your Lenses

Woman inserting a contact lens in eye.
Nearly 45 million Americans wear contacts, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For lens wearers with sensitive eyes, contacts can cause discomfort that may make them turn back to traditional glasses. Luckily, it doesn't have to be that way. If you have sensitive eyes, take a look at how you can make wearing contacts more than manageable.
Diagnose the Cause
Itchy, red, uncomfortable or swollen eyes aren't normal. While contact lenses can cause some degree of discomfort, especially at first, they shouldn't cause pain or constant irritation. But if you have an underlying problem, you may experience this type of issue.
What's causing your eye discomfort? There are several potential issues. Some people are just more sensitive than others.
If an underlying cause is to blame, it may include chronic dry eye, allergies, blepharitis (an inflammation of the eyelids and possibly the cornea and conjunctiva), or a reaction to a chemical or hygiene product. Redness and irritation can also occur with bacterial or viral conjunctivitis, such as what you'd find with pink eye.
An eye care professional can diagnose the root cause of the irritation. If you suspect that an allergy is the culprit, you may need to see an allergist (a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating allergies) to solve the problem.
Treat the Cause
After getting a medical diagnosis, you'll need to treat the cause of the irritation. If the contacts themselves aren't at fault, treating the condition can make wearing lenses comfortable.
The specific treatment you need depends on the diagnosis. Allergies may respond to antihistamine medications, dry eyes may moisten with artificial tears, conjunctivitis may require medicated eyedrops, and blepharitis symptoms may subside with proper eyelid care, eyedrops, and possibly antibiotics. Get a doctor's diagnosis before you buy medicated eyedrops.
Check the Fit
You've had a thorough eye exam, treated any possible causes of irritation, and your contact lenses are still uncomfortable. What's the problem? It's possible that your contacts don't fit properly. There is no one-size-fits-all contact. Never order contacts (including purely cosmetic contact lenses) online or without a doctor's exam.
Poorly fitted contacts can scratch the cornea, cause irritating infections, and decrease your ability to see correctly. In extreme cases, an incorrect fit can lead to blindness. The eye care professional will measure your eyes and check for the correct fit. If it's incorrect, a new size/shape of contact may solve your irritating problem.
Change Products
Your contacts may not be to blame for a sudden eye irritation. Some patients experience a reaction or sensitivity to their contact care products. Contact solution is a common culprit behind eye irritation. In some cases, this irritation doesn't start until weeks or months after initially using it.
This type of delayed hypersensitivity is typically seen with preservative-containing solutions (such as benzalkonium chloride or chlorhexidine-containing solutions). But sensitivity may occur with any product. If you don't have a known allergy to contact solution, you may still develop a sensitivity over time.
What can you do if your contact solution interferes with their use? Your eye care professional may recommend that you temporarily stop wearing your contacts. This gives your eyes a break, quieting the reaction. Depending on the severity of the reaction, you may need topical steroids or another type of eyedrop medication to reduce redness and discomfort.
After removing the irritant - and the resulting reaction - the eye care professional will likely switch the solution to another formula. If that doesn't work, disposable contacts eliminate the need for soaking and cleaning. This removes the irritant, eliminating the reaction completely.
Do you need new contact lenses? Contact the office of Dr. Evans and Dr. Carter Optometry for more information.