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Why Do Contacts Burn?

Clean, properly fitted contact lenses should be very comfortable — to the point that you forget you are wearing them.

If your contact lenses cause a sensation of burning eyes, something is wrong. There are several possibilities, including:

Eye allergies. Eye allergies can make your eyes burn, especially if you are wearing contact lenses. Common eye irritants that cause allergies — dust, pollen and pet dander — can accumulate on and under your contacts, causing irritation and discomfort. Eye allergies typically also cause rednessitchiness and watery eyes.

Sensitivity to preservatives. It's possible your eyes are burning because you are sensitive to the preservative or other ingredients in your contact lens solutions. Even if you have used the same contact lens solution for months or even years, it's possible to develop a delayed sensitivity reaction that can cause a burning sensation.

Dirty contact lenses. Protein deposits and other debris accumulate on contact lenses over time, even if you properly clean and disinfect your contacts. These accumulations reduce the oxygen permeability of your lenses, which can cause eye irritation and a hot or burning sensation.

Dry eyes. Burning and other contact lens discomfort may be caused by dry eyes. Other symptoms of dry eyes include redness, scratchiness or a feeling that something is "in" your eyes (called a foreign body sensation) and watery eyes. This last symptom may seem odd, but dryness often leads to eye irritation that can cause the tear glands to produce very watery "reflex" tears that are not the same as normal tears.

The only way to know for sure what is causing your eyes to burn when wearing contacts is to visit your optometrist or ophthalmologist for an eye exam.

The treatment your eye doctor prescribes will depend on the cause of your contact lens-related burning:

  • If the cause is allergic, he or she may recommend restricting where and how long you wear your contacts or switching to daily disposable contacts.

  • If your eye burning is caused by sensitivity to your contact lens solutions, switching to a preservative-free contact lens care system should help.

  • If protein or other contact lens deposits are the cause, adding a separate lens cleaner to your care regimen or replacing your contacts more frequently should solve the problem.

  • If you have dry eyes, your doctor may recommend using lubricating eye drops, possibly combined with other dry eye treatments including eye vitamins, to eliminate the burning sensation. He or she might also recommend changing to a brand of contact lenses designed for people with dry eyes.

In some cases, a combination of some or all of the above treatments may be the best solution for improving your contact lens comfort and eliminating your symptom of burning eyes.

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