Contact lenses may increase your risk of dry eyes compared to glasses. Treatment may include natural remedies, medications, and changing your contacts, among others.

It’s estimated that over 45 million people in the United States wear contact lenses.

However, the National Eye Institute (NEI) suggests that wearing contact lenses may increase your risk of developing dry eye. Symptoms of dry eyes are also the biggest reason why people stop wearing contact lenses.

Keep reading to learn more about how contacts cause dry eyes and how to manage your symptoms.

Nearly 16 million people in the United States are affected by dry eye, according to the NEI.

The eye is covered by a tear of film, which is made up of three layers that help:

  • keep your eye lubricated
  • protect your eye from environmental irritants
  • maintain the health of your eye

Research suggests that wearing contact lenses may lead to several eye complications, such as dry eye disease.

The outer, or lipid, layer of your tear film is made up of an oily, fatty substance. It’s responsible for preventing your tears from evaporating too quickly. The middle, or aqueous, layer is responsible for lubricating your eye.

A 2018 review found that wearing contacts divides the lipid and aqueous layers of your tear film. This may affect your eye and cause dryness in several ways, including:

  • changing the stability of your tear film
  • thinning out the thickness of your tear film
  • increasing the friction on your eye

Wearing contacts may also affect the regulation of proteins in your eyes that play a role in lubrication, leading to dry eyes.

Treatment for dry eyes will depend on the underlying cause and severity of your symptoms.

Some natural remedies to help provide relief from dry eyes may include:

  • avoiding irritants, such as wind and smoke
  • applying a warm compress
  • limiting your screen time
  • using a humidifier at home
  • staying hydrated throughout the day
  • wearing wraparound sunglasses outside

A healthcare professional may also recommend other treatment methods, such as:

  • over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription eye drops, known as artificial tears
  • tear duct plugs to help prevent moisture from draining too quickly
  • surgery to help prevent tear drainage

If these remedies don’t help improve your dry eyes, you may need to switch your contact lenses or modify your hygiene routine.

There are several factors to consider when getting a new pair of contacts for dry eyes.

Types of contacts

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the two most common types of contact lenses include:

  • Soft lenses: These are made of a flexible plastic that allows oxygen to pass through to the eye. They’re also made of hydrogel, which contains water and helps lubricate the eye.
  • Hard lenses: Also known as rigid gas permeable (RGP) lenses, these are built of stronger material. They generally offer better vision because they can resist the buildup of protein deposits on the lens surface.

Soft contact lenses are generally recommended for dry eyes.

However, a healthcare professional may recommend a scleral lens. This hard lens sits on the white part of the eye rather than the cornea. This allows tears to collect in the space between the lens and the cornea, which may help keep your eye moisturized.

Disposable vs reusable contact lenses

The authors of a 2023 review suggest wearing single-use, disposable lenses if you have dry eyes. This is less likely to cause protein deposits behind your lens, which could lead to irritation, infection, and inflammation.

That said, some people may benefit from wearing reusable lenses due to their lower water content.

Daily disposable contact lenses are typically made using silicone hydrogels. Although these have higher water content, they may dry out more quickly.

It’s best to work with a healthcare professional to determine the best type of contact lenses for you.

Dry eyes may sometimes be caused by your contact lens hygiene rather than the type of lens itself.

For example, some cleaning solutions contain preservatives that could irritate your eyes and leave them dry.

The CDC suggests the following tips to help you properly maintain contact lens hygiene and prevent dry eyes:

  • don’t sleep with your contact lenses
  • wash your hands with soap and water and dry them properly before touching your lenses
  • make sure your contact lenses never touch water, as this may introduce bacteria
  • regularly clean the case of your contacts with a solution, not water
  • replace your contact case every 3 months, minimum

If you wear reusable contact lenses, take the following steps to ensure proper hygiene:

  • wash your hands thoroughly and dry them
  • clean and rub your contact lenses with the solution recommended by your healthcare professional
  • only use fresh contact solution, rather than mixing old and new solution

It’s important to speak with your eye doctor if you think your hygiene routine is causing dry eye. They could help you find a new cleaning solution or show you how to properly clean your contacts.

How do you fix dry eyes from contacts?

Treatment for dry eyes caused by contacts may include natural remedies like applying a warm compress or using a humidifier at home. Some OTC eyedrops may also help. If these don’t work, a doctor may recommend changing your contact lenses.

Should I wear contacts if I have dry eyes?

Wearing contact lenses with dry eyes may worsen your symptoms. Try wearing your glasses until your symptoms improve, or speak with a healthcare professional. They could help you develop a treatment plan.

What is the best contact solution for dry eyes?

Many contact solutions contain preservatives that may cause allergic reactions or dry eyes. Speak with a healthcare professional about the best solution for you, as this may vary from person to person.

Contact lenses have several benefits, such as improving your vision without getting blurry during activity.

However, they’re more likely to cause dry eyes than wearing glasses.

Some natural and OTC remedies may help you treat dry eyes. If these don’t work, speak with a healthcare professional. They could help develop a treatment plan that’s right for you.