Contact Lenses and Dry Eye

Not A Dry Eye blogResearch on contact lenses and Dry Eye Syndrome has recently been in the news. One study examined the role of the lipid layer in tear film and how that might impact contact lens design. The other looked at the microbiome in the eyes of contact lens wearers.

Contact Lenses and Dry Eye – Research at Stanford

It’s a known fact that contact lenses can contribute to Dry Eye symptoms and it’s not uncommon for people who wear contacts to stop because of the discomfort they feel. In fact, Dry Eye is the most common cause of contact lens intolerance, with about 50% of the 30 million contact lens wearers in the US switching back to glasses.

One Stanford researcher, Saad Bhamla, a postdoctoral scholar in bioengineering, who stopped wearing contacts as a student when they became uncomfortable, decided to do something about it. He and other researchers at Stanford looked at the role of the lipid layer in tear film and determined that it has two primary functions. One is strength. The other is liquid retention. They are using this new understanding of tear film in designing a new kind of contact lens that helps with tear film stability.

Sounds promising. Right?

But even these new and improved contact lenses could, like all other contacts, stress meibomian glands and interrupt the blink feedback loop.

And then there’s the question of the eye microbiome.

Contact Lenses and Dry Eye – Changing the Eye Microbiome

Last May, researchers at NYU Langone reported that the microbiome in the eyes of contact lens wearers is more like the microbiome of the skin than the eyes of those who don’t wear contact lenses.

Reporter David McNamee wrote:

The team found three times the usual proportion of the bacteria Methylobacterium, Lactobacillus, Acinetobacter and Pseudomonas on the eye surfaces (conjunctiva) of contact lens wearers than on the eye surfaces of the control group.

The study’s senior investigator, NYU Langone microbiologist Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, PhD., said that putting a contact lens in the eye is, “not a neutral act.”

And Dr. Jack Dodick, the study’s author, professor, and chair of ophthalmology at NYU Langone, explained:

A common pathogen implicated has been Pseudomonas. This study suggests that because the offending organisms seem to emanate from the skin, greater attention should be directed to eyelid and hand hygiene to decrease the incidence of this serious occurrence.

And Dry Eye symptoms are only exacerbated when there’s an infection.

So if you’re going to wear contact lenses, be sure to practice good hygiene, rule out aqueous deficiency, and have your meibomian glands monitored periodically with meibography to be sure they’re healthy and doing their job well.

Send your comments to


Alterations to the eye microbiome of contact lens wearers may increase infections
McNamee D.
Medical News Today
31 May 2015
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Instability and breakup of model tear films
Bhamla MS, Chai C, Rabiah NI, Frostad JM, Fuller GG.
Investigative ophthalmology & visual science
2016 Mar 1;57(3):949-58. doi: 10.1167/iovs.15-18064.
View the full report

New insights into human tears could lead to more comfortable contact lenses
Medical News Today, Adapted Press Release
29 March 2016
View the full report


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