Contact Lenses and Dry Eye

Do contact lenses cause you to experience pain, gritty or sandy sensations, redness, or other symptoms of dry eye?

Contact Lenses and Dry Eye in Olympia

American Family Vision Clinic

Contact Lenses and Dry Eyes

Dry eye is a common complaint by wearers of contact lenses. Not surprisingly, it is a common problem among non-wearers as well. Nevertheless, it's been observed that contact lenses can exacerbate dry eye symptoms, making it a cause for concern for our eye care professionals at our Olympia eye care clinic. The lenses can make the eyes even drier than they might’ve been before. Moreover, some products associated with contact lenses, such as contact lens solution, can irritate the eyes of people already suffering from dry eye.

Fortunately, our professional eye doctor can provide reassurance that effective solutions do exist. There are products specialized for people with dry eye, and ways to mitigate symptoms while still being able to wear convenient, helpful lenses.

Treatment Options

As with any eye issues, the first step is to come see your local optometrist, who will be able to evaluate your dry eye symptoms. At our eye care clinic, we can determine the cause and then devise the ideal treatment plan to help relieve your symptoms and allow you to resume wearing your contact lenses in comfort.

Contact Lenses for Dry Eyes

There are specialized types of contact lenses designed for people who experience discomfort while wearing regular contacts. Additionally, in some cases it is the products associated with contact lenses, such as the lens solution, that can be irritating your eyes, opposed to the contacts themselves. That is something the doctor will be able to determine, and in those cases, switching your lens solution or cleaner can alleviate your symptoms.

Soft Contact Lenses for Dry Eyes

There are several different companies making contact lenses specifically designed for people who suffer from dry eye while wearing normal contacts.

There are several different popular brands which make soft contacts for people with dry eyes, including DAILIES TOTAL1, Biofinity, Dailies Aqua Comfort Plus, Acuvue Moist, Airoptix Aqua, Proclear, Acuvue Oasys, Acuvue Trueye, and Precision1, and while they have their differences, each focuses on keeping the eyes moist to provide relief from symptoms and to make the lenses comfortable to wear for extended periods. 

The way these contact lenses work is by using advanced lens materials that allow for the contact lens to retain more moisture and reduce the friction and discomfort on your eye. 

Treatment Options

For some more details on the nature of these lenses, and how they relate to dry eye:

  • Lens water content: contact lenses are partially made of water, but the amount of water can vary. High water content lenses are thicker, while low water content lenses are thinner. Counterintuitively, lenses with lower water content are in fact better for dry eyes, since they won’t draw water away from the eye. People suffering from dry eye should wear contacts with 40% or less water.
  • Deposit buildup prevention: A major issue when it comes to contact lenses and dry eye is environmental buildup on the lenses. This can be from things like pollen, bacteria, or protein and lipids from your tears. Daily lenses are the best way to avoid this issue, as there isn’t time for debris to build up on them.
  • Surface treatment to reduce friction: Different contact lenses can have different surface treatments, some of which produce less friction on the eye than others. Dry eye patients, who tend to have more sensitive eyes, should wear lenses with as little friction as possible for increased comfort.
  • Lens breathability: Contact lens breathability varies depending on the design and material used. Dry eye patients, for whom comfort is extra important, do better with more breathable lenses.

Scleral Contact Lenses for Dry Eyes

Scleral contact lenses are another option for people suffering from dry eye. Scleral lenses are larger than standard contacts, and rest on the sclera of the eye as opposed to directly on the cornea, and they move around less than standard contact lenses. This helps keep the front of the eye from drying out, and avoids irritating sensitive eyes. Additionally, scleral lenses can be custom made to fit over irregularly shaped corneas to provide better vision assistance. Learn more about scleral lenses here.


Orthokeratology, or othro-k) lenses are specially designed to be worn only while you sleep. While asleep, they reshape the front of the eyes, correcting refractive errors so you can see during the day without the need to wear contacts or glasses. Since, with ortho-k lenses, you are only wearing them at home, at night, there is less likelihood of them causing dry eye symptoms. Learn more about ortho-k lenses here.

Contact Lens Solution Options

As an eye care professional, Dr. Zurcher recommends scheduling an evaluation to discuss the possibility that your contact lens solution may be causing your symptoms. It's also suggested to bring your current contact lens solution to your appointment for further examination. Call us at (360) 491-2121 to schedule an evaluation.

Sometimes, people develop sensitivity to the preservatives in contact lens solution, and can experience dry eye symptoms because of that. In those cases, the doctor may recommend switching to a preservative free solution, or to use daily disposable contact lenses which do not need to be stored in solution overnight.

Eye Drops

Eye crops, also known as comfort drops, rewetting drops, or artificial tears, can be suggested as a way to treat contact lens-related dry eye. While their effect is temporary, their moisturizing effect on the eyes can alleviate symptoms, and some brands can provide longer-term relief.

If you wish to try this route, it is very important to schedule a consultation to discuss it, so we can provide advice on which eye drops can be used while wearing contacts, and which brand is likely to yield the best results.

Treatment Options

Common Questions

If you’re experiencing any symptoms of dry eyes you should see your optometrist to get a thorough dry eye evaluation to determine the severity of your dry eyes and then have the proper course of treatment. Some symptoms of dry eyes are if your eyes feel gritty, irritated, scratchy, foreign body sensation, burning, excessive watering/tearing, redness, or you may experience light sensitivity. Other symptoms may include blurry vision; you may notice you find yourself blinking more frequently in order for your vision to get cleared up, after going in and out of focus, due to an unstable ocular surface. Since symptoms of dry eyes can also be similar to symptoms caused by other eye conditions, it’s best to not just take care of the problem by yourself, and it’s important to visit your eye doctor so that you can get the proper diagnosis and treatment. Additionally, there are instances when sometimes signs of dry eyes can be detected by your eye doctor before you even experience any symptoms. So, in that case your eye doctor may also provide some sort of treatment to prevent you from starting to feel symptoms of dry eyes in the future. Thus, if you don’t experience any symptoms of dry eyes it is still important to get your eyes examined at least once per year
Contact Lenses and Dry Eye
Dr. Zurcher cartoon


Often, people are wary about talking to their eye doctor about contact lens-related dry eye, due to fear that they will be told they can no longer wear contact lenses. Today, however, there are plenty of options available, so it is unlikely you will be told to stop wearing contacts altogether. If you are experiencing dry eye symptoms, contact American Family Vision Clinic at (360) 491-2121 to schedule a consultation today! Patients with dry eyes visit our clinic from all over Washington, and we are proud to be a leading provider of dry eye care for patients from Olympia, Lakewood, Tacoma, and Lacey.


Such a nice optician. My grandson is only 4 and needs glasses. We were so sad, but he explained the issues, and we will follow up as he suggested.

Anna P.

I had such a good experience with the clinic. Very friendly staff and doctor, did not have to wait for long to be called, and was treated respectfully. Thanks, American Family.

June S.

Dr. Zurcher has gone above and beyond what any other eye doctor has ever done to figure out what is going on with my eyes. Very happy with American Family Vision.

Christine R.

Family Vision Clinic changed our lives! My daughter was frequently car sick, and she was getting headaches every day, often painful enough that they brought her to tears. We saw a string of doctors and therapists, but we made no progress. Finally, we found Dr. Levi Zurcher and his eye therapist Rain. After ten weeks of eye therapy my daughter no longer gets headaches, and she no longer gets car sick. Daily tears are a thing of the past. I really can’t say enough about this clinic. It was fascinating to watch Dr. Zurcher work. For the first time, someone who knew what they were doing was intently studying my daughter, really trying to figure out all of her eye issues, and his therapist Rain is one of the most patient and lovely people that I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet. We’re finished with eye therapy—yay!—and I have switched to American Family Vision Clinic for all of my family’s other eye health needs.

Lars Wulff

Very professional, yet kind and helpful. They do what they can to make the appointment comfortable. I was running a bit late, I made sure ti call. They were able to switch me with a patient who was already there, they treated me with respect, and helped my son have confidence by getting him the eye care he needed that day. Thank you so much! Would recommend to anyone. It's a blessing that they care enough to work with people who have all different types of insurance from work to state coverage.

Justin E.

The staff is friendly. The Doc is very knowledgeable. The office is family friendly and everyone is so patient with the little ones.

Amy Fagerness
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