More than 30 million Americans use contact lenses but there are risks you should know about
Over time, contacts can disrupt the delicate balance of tear film production and can bring about dry eye symptoms. Once this happens, you might notice:
- Dryness occurring after six hours or more of lens wear
- Reduced vision as the day progresses
- Increased eye itching
- Burning and tearing
Studies show that up to 50% of soft contact lens wearers complain of dryness.
Some dry eye patients can only wear lenses comfortably for short periods of time while others can’t tolerate contacts at all.
Dryness is the primary reason why people permanently discontinue contact lens wear.
Since the contact lens itself is wet, many don’t notice the dryness until it’s too late and thus, their eye dryness becomes a chronic problem.
Avoid eye doctors who treat dry eyes with contact lenses; this is ill advised since contacts only mask the symptoms while worsening the underlying cause of dry eyes.
Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis (GPC)
- Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis (GPC) is the most common contact lens related problem.
- It appears as numerous tiny swelling on the inside surface of the eyelids.
- Usually caused by allergic reaction to: the lens, protein deposits, lens material or cleaning solutions.
- Although not sight-threatening, there’s usually itchiness, increased lens awareness, sticky discharge and reduced vision.
- Once GPC occurs, it’s best to discontinue contact lens wear until the signs and symptoms abate.
- Recurrence of GPC is common.
- When resuming NEW lens wear, pay particular attention to lens maintenance, replace your lenses more frequently, or consider switching to disposable or RGP contact lenses.
- Corneal Abrasion is a scratch on the clear surface of your eye that can happen if sand or some airborne debris gets under the lens.
- This is far more common with RGP than soft lenses.
- There is a varying degree of pain or simply a foreign body sensation.
- It also happens by wearing an RGP lens with an edge defect or a soft lens that’s torn.
- If the abrasion is over a large area, immediate medical treatment is needed.
Corneal Edema (swelling) is due to contacts preventing air from getting to your cornea that lies underneath the lens.
- Improperly used extended wear lenses are most likely cause.
- Often, there are no symptoms. Other times, wearer may experience hazy vision, haloes around lights and pain upon removal of the lenses.
- Allowing the condition to continue can cause breaks on the corneal surface and lead to corneal infection and permanent scarring of the cornea.
- Best treatment – remove your lenses ASAP if you notice these symptoms.
- Regular follow-up examinations can detect oxygen deprivation and microscopic cornea changes before they become problematic.
- Corneal Neovascularization refers to abnormal blood vessels that grow into the cornea. Since the cornea receives all of its oxygen from the air, if the airflow to the cornea is blocked by contact lens wear, blood vessels may grow in.
- The higher your prescription and the thicker your contact lens, the more likely this will occur.
- Further progression develops into a fibrovascular scar called a Pannus; if unchecked it can grow over the pupil region of the cornea and decrease vision.
Results from the cornea “molding” to an irregular shape and/or fit of your contact lens.
- Usually caused by a poor fitting or warped RGP lens but, can be caused by soft contacts
- Over time, the cornea loses its symmetry; becoming “flat” on the top and “steep” in the bottom
- This is called “irregular” astigmatism and can’t be treated by wearing glasses; thus, vision is poor even while wearing glasses
- Halos and glare around lights at night can become troubling
- After several months of discontinuance of contacts, corneal curvature may stabilize; however, if it persists, rigid lenses must be worn to see well or surgery is required
Corneal Ulcer is the most devastating contact lens complication. The responsible micro-organisms may be bacteria, fungi or parasitic amoeba.
- acute eye pain
- foreign body sensation
- eye discharge; and
- a red-eye.
These symptoms should warn the wearer to remove the lens and seek medical advice immediately.
Primary causes include:
- Improper cleaning and disinfection technique
- Contaminated lens solutions
- Swimming while wearing contact lenses
- Wear in dirty or dusty environments
DON’T DELAY TREATMENT! Delay can lead to corneal scarring, corneal perforation and even blindness in extreme cases.