Eye Allergies and Contact Lenses

Dr. Matthew Sharpe- Founder of SharpeVision

By Dr. Matthew R. Sharpe

February 3, 2023

People wear contact lenses to address a wide range of refractive errors, including nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia), astigmatism, and presbyopia. In some conditions, they are used to treat eye diseases and corneal injury. They are a fashionable alternative to eyeglasses, letting people see clearly without the frames. Unfortunately, contact lenses can also agitate certain types of allergies by irritating the eyes.

How many people report problems with their contact lenses and allergies?

There are 22 million people who suffer from seasonal allergies. Seasonal allergies are commonly known as “hay fever.” The most common types of seasonal allergy triggers include:

  • Pollen from trees during the early spring.
  • Grass and flower pollen during the summer months.
  • Ragweed during the fall months.

The symptoms of seasonal allergies include sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose and eyes, fatigue, and red/dry eyes. According to the American Optometric Association, 75% of people regularly wearing contact lenses complain of eye irritation related to seasonal allergens.

Why do allergy sufferers complain of eye irritation from their contact lenses?

Despite their endless benefits, contact lenses can exacerbate seasonal allergies. The moist surfaces of these lenses attract spores, pollens, and dust particles. Daily-change contact lenses are the type most often prescribed for people with allergies, but even these can irritate the eyes on bad allergy days.
Contact lenses have a negative impact on the tear film of the eye; the aqueous solution on the surface of the cornea secreted by the tear gland. When the eye is irritated, it secretes things like cytokines, leading to inflammation. When contact lenses attract spores, pollen, and other allergens, the tear gland secretes more enzymes designed to ward off infection, producing inflammation.

Can contact lenses themselves produce an allergic reaction?

Contact lens wearers with seasonal allergies will often have to cope with symptoms of dry eyes, red eyes, and irritation. However, there is a rare condition called giant papillary conjunctivitis. Over time, bumps develop on the back of the eyelids. GPC impacts about 1% to 5% of contact lens wearers. The type of lenses, cleaning habits, and other health conditions can determine whether or not this condition develops within your eyes.

Can you wear contact lenses if you suffer from seasonal allergies?

Many people with seasonal allergies wear contact lenses. The majority of allergy sufferers who are also contact lens wearers will likely opt for daily disposable contact lenses. Some optometrists will tell their patients to wear their glasses on days when their allergies are bad. Some types of daily disposable lenses also include enhanced lubricants, which provide an additional barrier against allergens.
Dealing with seasonal allergies is a hassle. Even if you purchase the right type of contact lenses, there is a chance that you could get some sort of eye irritation on a day with a high pollen count.

Is laser vision treatment a viable solution for those with allergies?

If you suffer from seasonal allergies, that does not disqualify you from LASIK or other laser vision treatment options, such as PRK. If you have seasonal allergies, you might be advised to time your treatment outside of allergy season. Some LASIK patients do experience slight dry eyes a few days after the procedure, so avoiding treatment during allergy season will minimize this symptom.
Laser vision treatment is a great way to get rid of contact lenses if you get eye irritation during allergy season. If you have questions about allergies and your contact lenses, you should do a consult with Sharpe Vision. A 90-minute consultation will help you find the right solution to better vision.

Dr. Matthew Sharpe- Founder of SharpeVision

Dr. Matthew R. Sharpe

Dr. Matthew Sharpe is an Ophthalmologist specializing in refractive surgery and the owner SharpeVision MODERN LASIK & LENS, with offices in Seattle, Austin, and Chicago. Dr. Sharpe is a world traveler, pianist, marathon runner, motorcyclist, and fluent French speaker. He enjoys every second of life, but finds he is happiest at home cheering on The Ohio State Buckeyes with his wife, three children, and four dogs.
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