By: Richard Gans, MD
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If you wear contact lenses, you know that they often make things worse when allergies or infection are irritating your eyes. But it might surprise you to know that you also could have an allergic reaction to the lenses themselves or to the solution you use with them.
Many allergies that affect the eyes are seasonal or environmental — and if you suffer from those, you’re likely familiar with the itchiness and discomfort of red, irritated eyes. However, some people develop allergies to their contact lens solutions, or, in rare cases, even to the lens material itself.
The importance of careful eye care with contacts
We talk a lot about what you need to know if you wear contact lenses — from what to do and what not to do, to the basics you need to know if you wear them. You’ll see the same advice for protecting your eyes repeated for two main reasons:
- Contact lenses raise the risk of an eye infection and some infections can lead to vision loss or blindness if they’re not treated.
- You can’t tell whether eye irritation is a serious problem or a simple allergy by symptoms or appearance alone.
Even if you do all the right things when it comes to contact lens care, your eyes can still get irritated.
Whether it’s allergies or infection causing the problem, you need to take extra care. You can treat both, but it’s important to know the basics and what to do if your eyes are bothering you.
Contacts and allergies
How does it feel? You’ve already got one foreign object in your eye, so that means allergy symptoms are often more pronounced if you wear contact lenses. Red, itchy, watery or burning eyes are the main symptoms.
How do you treat it? Once you’ve confirmed that it’s allergies, you can try over-the-counter allergy eye drops. If those don’t help, you can get a prescription for eye drops from your ophthalmologist.
Some other tips:
- Always read the labels carefully and use as directed.
- Find out whether you can use the drops while you’re wearing your contacts.
- If you think your solution is the problem, try switching to a different brand.
- Talk to your eye doctor about other possible options, such as an allergy to the material in your lenses. Switching to lenses made from a different material may help clear up your eye irritation.
Contacts and infections
How does it feel? In addition to all the symptoms of an eye allergy, you also may notice pain or that your eyes are extra sensitive to light.
How do you treat it? Treatment depends on what caused the infection. It’s important to see your eye doctor to find out what’s going on. Many eye infections go away on their own, but only a doctor can tell you what’s behind your infection.
Give your irritated eyes a break from contacts
It’s never a good idea to wear your contacts when you have irritated eyes, no matter what’s causing the irritation.
Make sure you have a pair of eyeglasses with an up-to-date prescription on hand, and switch to them if your eyes are bothering you. You may need to wear your glasses until the infection goes away or your allergies are under control.
The bottom line: If your eye irritation doesn’t clear up in a day, see your eye doctor as soon as possible. If you feel any eye pain at all, see your doctor immediately.