Dry eye disease is widespread among contact lens wearers and is a significant reason people stop wearing contacts, according to Gary N. Foulks, MD.
Dr. Foulks is professor of ophthalmology at the University of Louisville (Louisville, Ky.) and a recognized expert in dry eyes. He discussed the condition at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Dry eye symptoms are reported by 50 to 80 percent of people wearing contact lenses and may be the limiting factor in at least one-third of cases of contact lens wear failure, Dr. Foulks said.
An underlying cause of dry eye problems suffered by contact lens wearers is a condition called meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), which is characterized by reduced secretions from oil glands located at the eyelid margins.
Oil secreted by meibomian glands becomes part of the tear film that coats the surface of the eye. If the meibomian glands become plugged or fail to secrete adequate oil for other reasons, the tear film quickly evaporates, leading to dry eye problems.
According to Dr. Foulks, MGD is present in 40 to 50 percent of patients in a typical optometric or contact lens practice.
Symptoms of meibomian gland dysfunction and dry eye are similar, and include:
- fluctuating vision (especially when reading or using a computer)
- eye irritiation
- a feeling something is “in” the eye (foreign body sensation)
- an eye itching or burning sensation
Treatment for MGD includes lid hygiene with hot compresses, followed by lid massage to open plugged meibomian glands. In more severe cases, topical antibiotic and anti-inflammatory medications may be needed.
Artificial tears and lubricating eye drops are the primary treatment for dry eye disease. Anti-inflammatory treatment with cyclosporine A (Restasis prescription eye drops) also has been shown to successfully manage dry eyes. Use of punctal plugs to slow the drainage of tears from the surface of the eye also can be helpful.
Recent research shows that dietary supplementation with flaxseed oil also may help reduce signs and symptoms of MGD and dry eye.
If your contact lenses are becoming uncomfortable and you suspect you have dry eyes, see your optometrist or ophthalmologist immediately. Early recognition and treatment of dry eye and MGD can control and prevent progression of these conditions and make your contact lens wear more comfortable.