The most common labels for contact lenses are hard or soft. However, these blanket definitions do not tell us much about what the contact lenses are made of, which is crucial if you think you might be allergic to your contacts.

Here, we break down what contact lenses are made of, and whether you can be allergic to your lenses.

What are soft contact lenses made of?

Soft contact lenses are made of plastics called hydrogels. Hydrogels absorb water, which helps to keep these lenses soft and flexible and allows oxygen to pass through the lens to keep your cornea healthy.1

Most soft contacts are made of silicone hydrogels . Silicone hydrogel lenses combine silicone with hydrogel plastics for a gel-like consistency that is extremely flexible.2 The addition of silicone allows more oxygen to pass through them and keeps them softer.

What are rigid gas permeable contact lenses made of?

RGP lenses are made of a more durable plastic which also contains silicone. They have high oxygen permeability and provide crisper vision compared to soft contact lenses.3 However, due to their size and how they sit on the surface of your eye, they can take more time to get used to.

What are the signs of contact lens allergy?

Contact lenses are made from hypoallergenic materials so it’s rare for someone to be allergic to the lens material itself.5 Often, a build-up of deposits (bacteria, dust, chemicals, pollen) on the lens surface can irritate the eyes , mimicking symptoms of allergy.6

However, if you are struggling with symptoms like redness, itching, swelling, blurred vision, watering, discharge, pain, and sensitivity, you could be allergic to your contacts or contact lens solution .7

How can you minimize the risk of allergies?

Good hygiene is essential to reduce the chances of irritation and allergies:

●      Always wash your hands before handling your contacts.

●      Keep to a rigorous cleaning schedule.

●      Inspect your contact lenses daily for signs of damage or obvious debris.

●      Always use the recommended cleaning solution.

●      Use fresh solution and discard any old solution.

●      Never use water to clean your contacts.

●      Consider wearing daily disposable lenses  which reduce the chances of irritation.

●      Use rewetting eye drops to keep your eyes fresh and comfortable. 

●      Try to avoid irritants like dust and pollen from contaminating your contacts.

●      Replace your contact lenses according to schedule and never overuse them beyond the recommended date.

What do I do if I’m allergic to my contact lenses?

If you think you’re allergic to your contact lenses or cleaning solution, switch to glasses and see your optometrist as soon as possible. You may have to avoid wearing contact lenses to give your eyes a period of rest. Your optometrist may recommend a more rigorous cleaning schedule to minimise irritation.

To treat contact lens allergy, your optometrist may recommend over-the-counter or prescription allergy eye drops.7 It’s important to use these exactly as directed and to find out whether you can use the eye drops while wearing your contacts.

You might need your contacts re-fitted or changed to a different type of lens. Switching to a different brand of cleaning solution might also help. Ultimately, the treatment will depend on your situation.

To learn more about what contact lenses are made of and the different types available, visit our contact lens page . If you think you may be allergic to contact lenses, book an appointment with a Specsavers optometrist as soon as possible.

References
  1. FDA. (no date). Types of Contact Lenses. [Online]. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/contact-lenses/types-contact-lenses [Accessed 2 November 2019].
  2. Cooper Vision. (no date). Silicone Hydrogels: What’s the Difference? [Online]. Available at: https://coopervision.com/about-contacts/silicone-hydrogel-contact-lenses [Accessed 2 November 2019].
  3. Musgrave CSA, Fang F. Contact Lens Materials: A Materials Science Perspective. Materials (Basel). 2019;12(2):261. Published 2019 Jan 14. [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6356913/ [Accessed 2 November 2019].
  4. American Optometric Association. (no date). Hybrid Lens Basics. [Online]. Available at: https://www.aoa.org/Documents/optometric-staff/Articles/Hybrid%20Lens%20Basics%20Article.pdf [Accessed 2 November 2019].
  5. Eye Health Web. (no date). Silicone Hydrogel Contact Lenses: A Consumer Guide. [Online]. Available at: https://www.eyehealthweb.com/silicone-hydrogel-contact-lenses/ [Accessed 2 November 2019].
  6. Hall BJ, Jones LW, Dixon B. Silicone allergies and the eye: fact or fiction? Eye Contact Lens. 2014 Jan;40(1):51-7. [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24362631 [Accessed 2 November 2019].
  7. Cleveland Clinic. (no date). Are You Allergic to Your Contact Lenses or Solution? [Online]. Available at: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/allergic-contact-lenses-solution/ [Accessed 2 November 2019].