While contacts are considered a safe and effective medical device that are placed in the eye to improve vision and correct refractive errors, they can sometimes cause burning or irritation.

Most often, burning and irritation from contacts are related to damaged or improperly fit contacts or an allergic reaction to the contact lens cleaning solution. Common allergens like dust and pollen can collect underneath contact lenses and cause the eyes to be irritated, especially if you suffer from allergies.

Almost everyone who wears contacts — 99 percent, according to a survey published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — engages in at least one poor hygiene behavior that raises the risk for inflammation or eye infection. Good eye hygiene and proper contact care can alleviate most instances of irritation.

If your eyes burn or become irritated after putting in contacts, take them out and use glasses. If the irritation persists, see your doctor.

Common Causes of Burning and Irritation From Contacts

If your eyes burn or are irritated after you put in contacts, something is wrong. Per the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), common causes include the following:

man rubbing eyes

  • Lenses that don't fit properly
  • Damaged contacts
  • An allergic reaction to contact lens cleaning or storage solution
  • Eye infection
  • Swelling of the cornea
  • Sensitivity to tear protein deposits in the lenses

Seasonal allergies or allergies to common things, such as dust or pollen, can lead to burning eyes and irritation. When you wear contacts, these allergens may become trapped under the lens and lead to further irritation and redness.

More Serious Issues

Sometimes, if your eyes burn and become irritated after putting in contacts, it can be related to an underlying medical issue.

  • Eye infection: Improper cleaning and storage, not washing your hands before touching your eyes or contacts, or wearing your contacts for longer than directed can lead to an eye infection. The American Optometric Association (AOA) reports that six out of every seven people who wear contacts do at least one thing that increases their risk for eye infection. Close to half (45 percent) of adult contact lens wearers continue wearing contacts beyond their shelf-life and don't replace them on the recommended schedule. This increases the risk of eye infection. Even wearing contact lenses that are approved for extended wear overnight can elevate the risk for infection. Common eye infections, such as conjunctivitis or pink eye, can be caused by bacterial buildup on the contacts and infect the eyes. There are about 1 million visits to doctors for eye infections related to wearing contact lenses, The Guardian Symptoms of an eye infection often include burning and irritated eyes.
  • Dry eyes: Contacts can block the flow of oxygen to the eyes, which can cause the eyes to become dry and irritated as a result. In fact, AOA reports that dry eyes can also be caused by long-term use of contacts.
  • Corneal swelling: Swelling in the outer layer of the eye can result in eye irritation and burning sensations that can be exacerbated by contact lens wear. Trauma to the eye, exposure to toxins, ocular surgery, and endothelial disorders such as Fuchs' endothelial dystrophy, which causes endothelial cells to die off, can be common causes of corneal swelling.
Eye irritation and b...

Eye irritation and burning may be caused by the contacts, or they may result from a medical problem that contact lens wear is exacerbating. Either way, the issue needs to be addressed and corrected.

Treating Irritation From Contact Lenses

If you experience a burning sensation or eye irritation when you put in your contacts or at any point throughout the day, follow these steps:

  1. Take your contacts out immediately.
  2. Clean your contacts thoroughly. There may be debris on the lenses.
  3. Flush your eyes with saline solution to remove any potential debris.
  4. Let your eyes rest for a bit. Switch to eyeglasses for an hour or so.
  5. Inspect your contacts for damage before putting them back in your eyes.

Preventing Future Irritation

Follow these tips to prevent future irritation from contacts:

person washing hands

  • Switch your lenses on a regular schedule. If you wear your lenses for longer than you are supposed to, they may be damaged or have bacterial buildup. This can irritate your eyes.
  • Assess your storage solution. If you are using a new cleaning or storage solution and experience irritation, you may be having an allergic reaction to the chemicals. Try a different type or brand.
  • Wash your hands. Use proper handwashing techniques when handling your contacts or touching your eyes. Follow the care and usage instructions provided by your eye care professional.
  • Clean your contacts properly. Clean and store your contacts as instructed. This can help to prevent bacterial buildup and possible eye irritation.

When to See a Doctor

If you experience ongoing irritation or burning sensations from your contacts, it’s time to visit your eye doctor. You may need to be refitted for contact lenses, have your prescription adjusted, or try a different brand.

If you suffer from chronic dry eyes or allergies, there are some brands or types of contacts that may work better than others. Switching from a soft contact lens to a rigid gas-permeable (RGP) lens can help oxygen to flow more freely to and from the eye. This may also help with tear production.

If your contacts aren't properly fitted to your eyes, they can cause burning and irritation. Your eye doctor can assess the fit and decide if you need to switch contact types or brands.

Only wear contacts that have been fitted and prescribed to you directly. It can take a few attempts to find the most comfortable type and brand of contact for you.

It is also possible that contacts are not the right vision improvement solution for you. In some cases, laser eye surgery may give you a better long-term solution. Your ophthalmologist can help you determine what the best option will be for your situation.

References

Fast Facts. (July 2018). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why Do My Eyes Burn After Inserting My Contacts? (February 2015). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Facts and Stats. (August 2017). American Optometric Association.

Healthy Vision and Contact Lenses. (2019). American Optometric Association.

How Safe Are Contact Lenses? (November 2014). The Guardian.

Dry Eye. (2019). American Optometric Association.

A Curious Case of Corneal Edema. (January 2007). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

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