Dry eye disease affects millions of Americans and can cause your eyes to become inflamed, sore, and red, making it difficult to go about your everyday life. If you wear contact lenses, dry eye can make it difficult and uncomfortable to continually use them.
If you have trouble wearing your contacts due to dry eye, there is still hope. There are many contact lens designs helpful for those affected by dry eye. During a consultation, your eye doctor may mention scleral contacts to you as they may help your dry eye.
Continue reading to learn more about scleral contact lenses and how they can help with your dry eye symptoms.
What is Dry Eye?
Dry eye occurs when your tears cannot properly moisturize your eyes. It is a common condition typically caused by tear instability. Inadequate tears and moisture can lead to inflammation and damage to the eye’s surface.
An issue within the tear film causes dry eye if not enough tears are produced or if tears evaporate too quickly. The tear film is made of three layers: oil, aqueous fluid, and mucin.
The tear film helps keep your eyes moist and clear, but when it is affected, it can cause problems that can affect your quality of life. The main causes of dry eye are a decrease in tear production and an increase in tear evaporation.
Decreased tear production
Tear production typically begins to lessen with age. Other factors in a lack of tear production can include certain medical conditions such as lupus, Sjorgren’s syndrome, or scleroderma, among others. Side effects from medications such as antihistamines, decongestants, and antidepressants can contribute to decreased tear production as well.
When you do not produce enough tears, you may experience pained, red eyes. This cause of dry eye only accounts for roughly 10% of dry eye cases.
Increased tear evaporation
Dry eye can also be caused by an increase in tear evaporation, typically caused by poor quality. When your tears are dragged across your eyes, the oily layer of the tear film helps protect the aqueous fluid from evaporating. If this oil (meibum) is affected, your tears can evaporate too quickly and cause inflammation and discomfort.
This meibum can be affected by several factors such as meibomian gland dysfunction, infrequent blinking, or environmental factors such as wind and smoke. Some of the common causes of tear evaporation can include:
- Posterior blepharitis
- Eye allergies
- Infrequent blinking
- Wind, smoke, or dry air
- Vitamin A deficiency
- Eyelid problems (ectropion & entropion)
If you suffer from dry eye, contacts may become uncomfortable to wear. Because they sit on your eyes, contact lenses can become irritating to wear when your eyes become dried out and inflamed. However, there are contact lenses suited for dry eye patients, and scleral contacts can provide your eyes with consistent moisture.
What are Scleral Contact Lenses?
Scleral contact lenses are large-diameter lens designed to cover the entire corneal surface and rest on the sclera (white of your eye). This can transform an irregular cornea into a smooth optical surface which is useful for correcting vision problems caused by corneal irregularities. You may be recommended scleral contact lenses if you are affected by the following:
- Corneal irregularities
- Dry eye
- Sjogren’s syndrome
- Graft versus host disease
- Stevens-Johnson syndrome
Besides the lenses vaulting over the corneal surface, they also create a reservoir between the cornea and back of the lens. This reservoir contains fluid and provides comfort for people suffering from dry eye. This is great in principle, but do scleral contact lenses work for dry eye?
Scleral Contact Lenses & Dry Eye
Scleral contacts are typically recommended after more traditional dry eye treatments have been attempted. It is important to know these lenses will not cure your dry eye symptoms but can offer consistent moisture to your eyes, providing relief. The larger-diameter lens covers the entire corneal surface which can protect it from potential irritants such as smoke, wind, and dust.
Studies have found alternative treatments such as scleral contact lenses can be well tolerated and provide relief of symptoms when a patient’s dry eye is severe and difficult to manage. Other studies found a large number of subjects were satisfied with the effectiveness of scleral contact lenses, and they helped increase comfort, decrease the need for eye drops, and improve visual acuity.
While scleral contact lenses will not fix all of your problems, they can be effective in relieving symptoms for patients suffering from chronic dry eye disease. If you are affected by dry eye, speak with your optometrist about potential treatments.
Find Your Relief
Dry eye can cause significant irritation and discomfort for your eyes, and leaving this condition untreated can affect your quality of life. There are many treatments available for dry eye, and scleral contacts are just one option out of many. If you are suffering from dry eye, or are interested in scleral contact lenses, book an appointment with your optometrist.