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Do Contact Lenses Hurt Your Eye?

Overall, wearing contact lenses is very safe. I should know, I’ve been wearing them for 26 years at this point! And in many cases, the adverse effects that occur happen due to overwear or lack of proper cleaning. However, as an eye doctor, I can tell you that there are a number of side effects that we see in the eyes over time that are not necessarily even symptomatic. Stay tuned for how contact lenses really affect your eyes in today’s video.

This is eye school with me, Dr. D where I teach you about products and treatments related to dry eye syndrome and eye beauty. I’m an eye doctor that treats patients with dry eye and I pay special attention to makeup and skincare, I even have an esthetician that I work closely with in my practice. I’m obsessed with helping you achieve beautiful, comfortable healthy eyes.

Let’s discuss the ways contacts can “hurt” your eyes. Not all of these occur in everyone, and not all are even serious. As a reminder, Contact lenses are considered medical devices and are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For safety reasons, they cannot be purchased without a professional fitting and a contact lens prescription written by a licensed eye doctor.

Ways contacts can “hurt” your eyes

Interrupt tear film - When contact lenses are in, they separate your tears on the surface of the eye into “pre lens” and “post lens” compartments. Because a normal healthy tear film is normally composed of three layers, the separation can negatively affect the delicate balance of the tear film, which is normally composed of lipids, watery tears, electrolytes, growth factors, etc.

Increased Dryness can result not only from the separation of the tears as above but due to the impact of the materials of the contact lenses. For instance, sometimes the surface treatment of the contact lenses can be drying, exposing silicone material of the lens which is hydrophobic. OK let me break that down a little bit more.

Most contact lenses today are made from either Hydro gel or more commonly Silicone Hydrogel material. Silicone was added to lenses probably 20 years ago for the reason that it helps so much with breathability. However silicone is hydrophobic meaning it doesn’t like water so therefore all contact lens companies must treat their silicone hydrogel lenses to be able to live in the tear film and not repel water.

Contact lens companies use various methods for treating the surface of silicone hydrogel lenses Sammy's plasma treatment recently we see lenses that have a water gradient Design at the surface of the lens and this is all done to try to make silicone wettable and inherently hydrophobic material we’re trying to make it wettable so that as you where the lenses throughout the day we don’t have that treatment of the lens coming off causing silicone to be in contact with the tears because when that happens we get lens deposits but we also get that feeling of dryness.

More serious risks contacts can pose to your eye

Potential for increased meibomian gland disease - Many studies have examined the relation between contact lens wear and meibomian gland changes. Such studies have found that lens wear is associated with adverse changes in meibomian gland morphology and in the condition of the lid margin and meibum, suggesting that contact lenses negatively affect meibomian glands.

Corneal neuropathy - It has been theorized that the long term wear of contact lenses results in corneal neuropathy, a finding I myself have witnessed in my clinic. This can lead to the development of neurotrophic disease, which can have symptoms similar to dry eye in the early stages up to neurotrophic ulcers in the later stages.

Increased risk of infection - Millions of people wear contact lenses safely every day. But there is a risk of getting an eye infection from them.There are a number of things that can cause a contact lens-related infection.

Some causes of infection may include:

  • using extended-wear lenses

  • sleeping in your contact lenses

  • having microbes build up under the lens

  • herpes virus

  • bacteria, fungi, or parasites

  • not keeping lenses or cases clean, or reusing or topping off contact lens solution

Symptoms of contact lens–related infections include:

More about the seriousness of infections to your eye

Some contact lens-related eye infections can cause serious vision loss or even blindness. If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to see your eye doctor as soon as possible.

Corneal Vascularization, Corneal Edema, Infiltrates, Scarring. These side effects of wearing contact lenses occur with the patient not even realizing that they’re happening. When I examine patients at their contact lens follow ups or at their yearly contact lens evaluation these are the things I’m looking for because these are signs that your eyes are not breathing and getting the oxygen they need that occur well before you have an infection or have so much dryness that you feel you can’t wear lenses anymore.

Corneal neovascularization is common and is a sign that your eyes are not getting enough oxygen. You literally start to have vessels growing into your cornea 360 degrees around the cornea. This happens because the cornea does not have its own blood supply; it relies on atmospheric oxygen to breathe and when a contact lens is in place it impedes the amount of oxygen that reaches the cornea.

So then when that cornea is deprived of oxygen the eye tries to bring it oxygen and blood vessels from the conjunctiva the limbal space start to go into the cornea. Corneal neovascularization does not blur your vision or cause any symptoms whatsoever until it’s so severe that it’s in the central axis of your cornea. However this is a sign I do not like to ignore as if the eye is trying to tell us that it’s having a hard time breathing. Now once you get into a healthier contact lens or resume better contact lens habit corneal neovascularization does tend to reseed now there are ghost vessels left behind but there’s no more blood in them.

Microcystic corneal edema occurs when the cornea is deprived of oxygen As well. This presents as a generalized or centralized area of swelling in your cornea and there’s also the result of your cornea not having enough oxygen that can blur your vision.

Corneal Infiltrates are another complication that occurs when the cornea does not have enough oxygen. These infiltrates are a present inflammation in the cornea when there is ulceration or an area of exposed cornea above that can get infected and become an ulcer but commonly infiltrative keratitis will happen when over where is present and lens where needs to be decreased.

Steroids and infiltrates which clear some typically very much after wish you could definitely wear contact lenses again but again this is just a sign your cornea is telling us that more oxygen is that and change which contact you wear.

Giant papillary conjunctivitis (GPC) is an allergic reaction of the eye. It occurs when one or several small round bumps (papillae) develop on the underside of the eyelid.

Now You Know The Risks, Here Are My Tips to Avoid Harmful Effects of Contact Lenses

  1. Never overwear, avoid extended wear

  2. Follow Drs cleaning regimen

  3. Consider daily lenses

  4. Watch wear time

Let me know…has your doctor ever mentioned side effects from wearing CL’s present in your eyes? Leave a comment here on the video!

Research Links:


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