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Red Eyes and Contacts

Top Causes of Red Eyes From Contacts

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Updated June 25, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

If you develop red eyes while wearing contact lenses, consider it a warning sign. While a contact lens may seem small and harmless, you must keep in mind that it is a foreign body resting on the surface of your eye. If your eyes turn red while wearing your contacts, it may mean you are simply overwearing them. However, there are many conditions that can cause increased eye redness while wearing contacts. Below are the top seven reasons why your contacts may be causing red eyes.

1. Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis

Giant papillary conjunctivits (GPC) is a condition found commonly in contact lens wearers. GPC is a type of inflammation caused by having a foreign body (contact lens) in the eye. Contact lenses can sometimes irritate the surface of the conjunctiva. GPC may make your eyes red and itchy, and cause your contact lenses to move around on your eyes.

2. C.L.A.R.E.

C.L.A.R.E stands for "contact lens induced red eye." Caused by bacteria, C.L.A.R.E. is a reaction to the toxins that normal bacteria create in your eyes. Toxins that would normally be flushed out of your eye by blinking can bind to a contact lens. These toxins build up and can create a very unhappy red eye. C.L.A.R.E. is found more commonly in patients who take long naps or sleep in their contact lenses.

3. Contact Lens Solution Use

If your eyes are red, you may have an allergy to the disinfecting contact lens solution you are using. An allergy can develop at any time, even if you have used a particular brand of solution for several years. Some contact lens re-wetting or lubricating eye drops may contain preservatives that produce an allergic reaction.

4. Eye Allergies

People who have allergies sometimes have a difficult time wearing contact lenses. While the constant itching, eye rubbing and tearing caused by allergies can make you miserable on their own, having a contact lens in your eye can exacerbate your eye allergies even more. Contacts may act like a vessel, collecting pollen and allergic particles that float in the air around you. These antigens can adhere to your lenses, worsening your allergies.

5. Corneal Ulcer

Corneal ulcers are always taken seriously in the eye care field. The first sign of a developing corneal ulcer is often eye redness. You may also feel like there is a foreign body your eye, and/or have increased light sensitivity, tearing and pain. If you have these symptoms, seek care immediately. Corneal ulcers have the potential to cause corneal scarring and permentantly reduced vision, and sometimes blindess.

6. Poorly Fit or Defective Lenses

Lenses that are too tight can restrict normal tear flow underneath your lenses and reduce the amount of oxygen to your corneas. Occasionally, a compression ring around the cornea is visible in the examination room. Your eyes may seem fine in the morning, but as the day goes on, your eyes may become red and begin to ache.

A lens that is too loose may cause redness as well. A loose lens moves with every blink, creating redness and a foreign body sensation.

You should never wear a defective or torn lens, as the defective part of the lens may constantly scratch your eye. It doesn't take much of a scratch to create small holes in your cornea, giving bacteria an easy route to your eye to cause infection.

7. Dry Eye Syndrome

Even if you have absolutely no symptoms of dry eye syndrome, you may have very dry eyes when wearing contact lenses. To be a successful contact lens wearer, you must have a fairly healthy tear layer. A contact lens can soak up every tear you have, not allowing for lubrication of your eye or the lens.

Dry eye symptoms often increase as the day goes on. Your eyes may become red, and they might feel scratchy. If your eyes are significantly dry, you may not be able to wear your lenses for more than a couple of hours at a time.

Source:

Bennett, Edward S. and Vinita Allee Henry. Clinical Manual of Contact Lenses, pp 307-315. Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2000.

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