For many people, contact lenses are a breath of fresh air. They can offer a sense of freedom and convenience that it isn’t always possible to get with glasses — for example, they won’t fog up and can be preferable if you’re playing sport. While contact lenses are now more comfortable than ever, some users will experience discomfort when wearing them. The good news, however, is that eye discomfort due to contact lens wear can be easily remedied and isn’t normal.

Why can contact lenses cause discomfort?

Symptoms of contact lens discomfort might include stinging and itching, and gritty or burning sensations in and around the eye. Sensitivity to light, eye redness, excessive watering, eye dryness, or feeling as though there’s a foreign object in the eye are other notable symptoms. Some reasons why contact lenses can cause discomfort include:

Transferring debris onto the lenses

Those new to contacts might find the process of putting lenses in and taking them out somewhat fiddly. It’s not uncommon to transfer tiny particles of dust, debris, or makeup onto a lens if you frequently handle your lenses, even if you practise good hygiene. If this happens, you might feel like you have something gritty in your eye.

Environmental or seasonal allergies

Pollen, dust mites, and pet fur can all cause red, itchy, and irritated eyes if you happen to have allergies. Thankfully, there are things you can do to alleviate allergy symptoms so that you can wear contact lenses comfortably.

The wrong lens fit

This is one of the most common reasons for eye discomfort among contact lens wearers. You might get lenses that fit you incorrectly if you buy them online using your glasses prescription. Buying your contact lenses from a qualified optician will eliminate this problem: they’ll measure your eyes and make sure you get lenses with the right base curve and diameter.

Why do my contact lenses feel dry?

Your contact lenses or eyes may feel dry as a result of excessive lens wear. All types of contact lenses can restrict the flow of oxygen to the eye to some extent, more so if worn for too long.

Dry eyes can also occur as a result of eye infections, excessive computer use, blocked tear ducts, some medications, and age-related factors. Certain eye diseases may also cause discomfort when wearing contact lenses. It’s important to stop wearing your contacts and get your eyes checked asap if you’re worried about the health of your eyes.

How does a lack of oxygen to the eye contribute to discomfort?

The cornea (the transparent outer layer at the front of the eye) doesn’t have blood vessels and must obtain the oxygen it requires from the surrounding air.1 Contact lenses modify access to this air and so reduce the amount of oxygen available to the cornea.1 

When the cornea experiences reduced levels of oxygen, this can result in corneal swelling.2 Swollen corneas can present uncomfortable symptoms like dryness, redness of the eye, and blurry vision.

How can I make sure my eyes get enough oxygen?

Soft contact lenses made of a material called silicone hydrogel offer a much higher oxygen permeability compared to those made using hydrogel. At Specsavers, we offer a range of silicone hydrogel contact lenses that are safe and comfortable to wear for long periods of time.

That said, it’s essential to give your eyes a break from contact lenses regularly. Your optician will advise you on the ideal amount of time you should wear your lenses, and when you should take a break.

What role does aftercare play in managing discomfort?

A proper aftercare routine can help prevent contact lens discomfort.

For daily contact wearers, this includes:

  • Making sure you wash your hands before and after putting your lenses in and taking them out
  • Not reusing daily contact lenses
  • Not using lenses that are split or damaged. Because they are made of very soft material, they can tear more easily when handled compared to other lens types
  • Not falling asleep with your contact lenses still in
  • Only wearing your contact lenses for the duration recommended by your optician


For monthly contact lens wearers, a good aftercare routine includes:

  • Again, good hygiene – thorough hand washing before handling your lenses
  • Using the appropriate contact lens solution that your optician has recommended. Plain water can do more harm than good, even if you’ve run out of solution
  • Soaking your lenses overnight as opposed to just before wearing them
  • Cleaning your contact lens case regularly to reduce the chance of infections

No matter what type of lenses you use, it’s important to attend regular aftercare appointments with your optometrist, so that they can monitor the health of your eyes and check you’re getting on well with your contact lenses. Your optometrist will tell you how often they need to see you.

Be guided by your optician

Some of the reasons why you might experience contact lens discomfort include the wrong lens fit, poor hygiene practices, allergies, dry eyes, medications, and underlying conditions. A good aftercare routine can go a long way in helping you to reduce eye discomfort.

Always speak to your optician if you’re worried about the health of your eyes, or your discomfort doesn’t subside after following the tips and solutions outlined in this article.

Our friendly opticians can take you through the best contact lens options for you, so book in a chat today. Alternatively, head back to our contact lens page for more information on the different types.

References

1. National Research Council (US) Working Group, Contact Lens Use Under Adverse Conditions, section Hypoxia, paragraph 1.

2. Ebert Flattau P, National Research Council (US) Working Group, Considerations in Contact Lens Use Under Adverse Conditions: Proceedings of a Symposium, section Hypoxia and Corneal Physiology, paragraph 2.