What do I do when my contact lenses hurt?

Medically reviewed by Khuram Sarwar, Dispensing Optician at Feel Good Contacts.

Your eyes could be hurting from your contact lenses for a couple of reasons; however, it is most likely down to them not being the right fit for your eyes. It’s advisable to have a copy of your prescription with you when you order your lenses so that you know you're ordering exactly what you need. Eye pain from contact lens wear can also be a concern as it may indicate an eye infection. Remember, if your eyes don’t feel right, look good or seem well, you need to see an eye care practitioner for a check-up. Sometimes a minor contact lens irritation, if left untreated, can develop into a more serious problem — occasionally one that can be sight-threatening.

Lenses are made from lots of different materials, some of which are designed for different wearing schedules. If you're wearing contact lenses overnight, but you haven't been prescribed extended wear lenses by your optician, this could be the reason your eyes are in pain.

What should I do if my contact lenses are hurting my eyes?

  1. First thing’s first, you should wash and dry your hands thoroughly with a lint-free towel before carefully removing your contact lens.
  2. You'll then need to use some fresh contact lens solution and gently rub your contact lens clean. This should remove any potential irritants from the lens surface. Doing this as soon as you feel some pain from the lens is important to avoid irritating your eye.
  3. After cleaning and reapplying the lens, if your eye is still hurting, you should take it out again for a closer inspection. Sometimes contacts can split, irritating the eye. If this is the case, you should immediately throw away the lens and apply a new one. That's why you should always carry a spare set, especially if you're a daily disposable contact lens wearer.
  4. Having thrown away the damaged lenses, and with a fresh pair in your eyes, the pain should go away very quickly. However, if your eyes are still hurting, you should cease wearing your lenses and seek help from your eye care practitioner. They may check to see if the lenses are suitable for your eyes or they may suggest an eye exam to see if there are any more serious factors at play.

When visiting your eye care practitioner, please make sure to take all your contact lens details with you. If you don’t have a written contact lens prescription, take the boxes that your lenses have come in so that the optician can see the lenses' make and material.

PLEASE DO NOT forget the contact lens solution if you are wearing monthly lenses (most problems can often occur due to patients using different solutions). Not all solutions are suitable for all lens types. If you are taking over the counter or prescription medications, remember to bring these with you too.

And, in instances like these, you should refrain from wearing contact lenses to avoid worsening your eyes’ condition. Having a pair of glasses with an up-to-date prescription is always advised for these sorts of situations.

Is it normal for contacts to hurt at first?

It is normal for new contact lens wearers to feel the edges of the lenses the first few times when putting them in; however, they should not cause pain. If you are experiencing pain, burning or irritation, you should return to your eye care practitioner.

Any minor irritations should disappear within 15 minutes as your eyes adjust and accept the lenses. If you feel irritation, then your lenses may be either inside out or dirty.

Why do my contact lenses hurt?

Various factors can cause your contact lenses to hurt, which is why we recommend you see your optometrist or ophthalmologist should you experience pain or discomfort. An eye care professional will be able to determine the underlying problem accurately.

Your contact lenses could hurt as a result of lens-specific or environmental causes.

Lens-specific causes may be any of the following:

  • The lens material's wettability - the higher the wettability of the contact lens material, the less likely it is to cause pain and discomfort.
  • The lens design - this can also affect the discomfort that some lens wearers experience. Silicone hydrogel lenses have become increasingly popular due to their breathable design which allows a higher amount of oxygen to permeate the eye, enabling them to stay better hydrated.
  • The lens fit - your eyes' size and shape are unique to you, and therefore your contact lenses should be too. For this reason, it’s crucial that you wear the correct lens type. For example, if you require toric lenses for your eye shape. A poor fit can cause severe damage to your eye health, such as corneal abrasion.
  • The wearing schedule - there is a range of contact lenses, from daily disposable lenses to extended wear contact lenses, designed to be worn safely overnight. You should follow the wearing schedule recommended to you by your optician who will help you pick a lens best suited to your lifestyle.
  • Lens care solutions - using the wrong contact lens solution can cause your contact lenses to hurt. Different lens solutions have been designed for various purposes. Making sure that you use the correct solution for the intended purpose is very important.

Environmental causes may be any of the following:

  • Age - ageing can cause a tendency toward meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) to increase. This occurs when the eyelid glands don’t produce enough oil to stop the tears' watery layer from drying out.

    When this happens, there is a lack of lubrication on the eye, which makes it harder to tolerate contact lenses.

    Meibomian gland dysfunction can affect anyone and is mostly associated with blepharitis; however, it is more likely to occur after the age of 50 if you have oily skin conditions.

  • Medication - silicone hydrogel and rigid gas permeable contact lenses interact differently with medication and can cause adverse effects based on various factors. It is therefore important to consider a contact lens wearers medical history when prescribing contact lenses.
  • Tear film stability - this is strongly linked with comfort and contact lens wear. The stability of tear film helps to prevent evaporation from the ocular surface. If one has low tear film stability, they are more likely to experience discomfort from dry eyes when wearing contact lenses.
  • Heating and air conditioning
  • Excessive digital screen use
  • Adverse weather conditions

The last three of these environmental factors can cause your lenses to lose moisture, and as a result, begin to dry out. This can eventually lead to dry eye, which can be painful and uncomfortable.

If this is the case, you should treat your eyes with eye drops recommended by your optician. Our comfi Soothe Drops are a premium product designed specifically to treat dry eyes and provide long-lasting relief.

There’s also the possibility that your lens has picked up allergens, dirt or protein build-up and needs cleaning. Our multi-purpose solutions offer a wide range of top-quality products for storing, cleaning, disinfecting and rinsing your lenses.

Nevertheless, if you have an allergic reaction, it does not matter how much you clean lenses. The best thing is to see an optician who will determine what you are reacting to; this could be either solution or lens material.

Why are my contacts suddenly bothering me?

Years of successful wear does not mean that you cannot suddenly encounter problems with your contact lenses. Contact lenses are a foreign body, so it is only natural that your immune system might see these corrective lenses as intruders and as a result, increase its production of white blood cells and antibodies. This can make it uncomfortable to wear contact lenses. If this happens, you will notice some irritation, indicating that you have developed an allergy to contact lenses. If you have a cold or are feeling unwell, you should avoid wearing contact lenses and wear glasses with an up-to-date prescription instead.

Quick links:

Do I need an eye test?
A guide to eye infections
Top tips for contact lenses and allergies
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