Ask Dr. Parkhurst: What Is Contact Lens Intolerance?
A common conversation I have with my patients is about their contact lenses. A surprising number of people experience problems with their contacts, even after years of wearing them successfully. People love their contacts…until they don’t…then their contacts start to drive them nuts. Those who fall out of love are likely suffering from a condition called Contact Lens Intolerance.
First, let’s talk about what contact lens intolerance is.
Contact lens intolerance can range from mild irritation – that burning, scratchy feeling - to more serious issues such as chronic dry eye, abrasions, infections and even corneal ulcers. Because the symptoms of contact lens intolerance typically start of mild and then escalate, sometimes rapidly, to something serious it is important to have any eye issues checked out. Not to be overly alarmist, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, citing a study published in 2008, some of these complications lead to blindness in up to 1 in 500 contact lens users per year.
What causes contact lens intolerance?
Some people have eyes that are difficult to fit with contacts, or the fit of a given pair isn’t right. The very nature of contacts – being able to see without really thinking about it once they are in – means wearers often abuse them. Over-wear of lenses, causing deposits to develop on the surface, or not cleaning lenses properly, also can lead to contact lens intolerance, as can sensitivity to lens cleaning solutions. Because all types of contact lenses reduce the amount of oxygen reaching the cornea (the part of the eye covered by the contact), even with proper care and hygiene, there can be problems.
What does the research say?
Even contact wearers – there are than 30 million in the U.S. – who aren’t contact lens intolerant find that over time, the positives of contacts can turn negative. A recently published study of long-term (<5 years) contact lens users showed that, over a 3-year period, their level of satisfaction with using contact lenses decreased significantly – from 63 percent down to 54 percent after 3 years. The study also showed that people who used to use contacts, but then chose to have LASIK eye surgery, had a much higher level of satisfaction with their vision that only improved over time. Importantly, LASIK has a much lower risk of sight threatening infection – 1 in 10,000 according to clinical research.
"What are the options if I am contact lens intolerant?"
Patients can always go back into glasses. But you can also talk with your surgeon about other vision correction options. Whatever the cause, people with contact lens intolerance often decide to switch to glasses or have LASIK vision correction surgery to perfect their eyesight permanently.