Glaucoma and Contact Lenses: What You Need to Know

Black woman holding a contact lens on her finger

If you or someone you know has glaucoma, you might be curious to know how wearing contact lenses could affect the condition.

Although individuals with glaucoma can often use contact lenses, careful consideration is required to ensure that their contact lenses do not interfere with their glaucoma medication or exacerbate their condition. Each case is unique, so it’s crucial for patients with glaucoma to have a detailed discussion with their ophthalmologist or optometrist before starting or continuing the use of contact lenses.

In recent years, there has been ongoing progress in creating lenses that diagnose and address glaucoma, with preliminary research showing promising results. These advanced lenses — smart contact lenses — incorporate miniature sensors, similar to those used in smartphones and wearable technology, to gather information about the eye’s internal pressure. They provide precise measurements of intraocular pressure (IOP), track fluctuations in IOP, and potentially prevent blindness caused by glaucoma.

What Is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a group of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve, which is crucial for good vision. The damage is often caused by abnormally high pressure in the eye. Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness for people over the age of 60. It can occur at any age but is more common in older adults.

Many forms of glaucoma have no warning signs, so you may not notice a change in vision until the condition is advanced. Early detection and treatment can help prevent vision loss in people with glaucoma. Managing glaucoma usually involves using eye drops, laser treatment, or surgery to lower eye pressure, which can help slow the progression of the disease.

Numerous forms of glaucoma exist, but open-angle glaucoma is the predominant type found in the United States. Other variants, such as angle-closure glaucoma and congenital glaucoma, are relatively rare.

Considerations for Contact Lens Wearers With Glaucoma

  • Regular Eye Examinations: Regular eye examinations are crucial for individuals with glaucoma, as these evaluations help closely monitor the condition’s progression.

    These regular check-ups are also vital for updating contact lens prescriptions. Since glaucoma can affect vision over time, the power of the lenses may need adjustment to accommodate any changes in sight. Wearing the correct prescription is essential for clear vision and overall eye health. Incorrect or outdated prescriptions can cause eyestrain and headaches, further complicating the condition.
  • Type of Contact Lenses: Some types of contact lenses, particularly rigid gas-permeable (RGP) lenses, are better suited for glaucoma patients, as they allow more oxygen to reach the cornea, which is beneficial for eye health.

    The increased oxygen permeability of RGP lenses helps maintain the cornea’s health, which can be particularly beneficial for those with glaucoma. A healthy cornea can contribute to better overall eye health and potentially slow the progression of glaucoma by helping to maintain stable IOP and facilitating better fluid dynamics within the eye.

    RGP lenses are known for providing clearer, more stable vision than soft lenses, which can be beneficial for glaucoma patients who may already be experiencing vision issues
  • Contact Lens Hygiene: Maintaining proper lens care and hygiene is essential to eye health, especially for individuals with glaucoma or those at risk of this condition. Ensuring that lenses are clean and well maintained is vital in preventing eye infections.

    For individuals with glaucoma, an eye infection can lead to increased eye pressure, exacerbating the condition and potentially accelerating the progression of vision loss. Therefore, avoiding any activities that could introduce bacteria or other pathogens to the eye is crucial.
  • Medication Considerations: Some glaucoma medications can affect tear production, potentially making wearing contact lenses uncomfortable.

    To address this challenge, eye care professionals may recommend several strategies. These can include using special contact lens materials that retain moisture better and are more breathable, thus providing greater comfort for individuals with dry eyes. Silicone hydrogel lenses are one example of materials that allow more oxygen to reach the cornea, reducing dryness and improving overall lens comfort.

    In some cases, if these measures are not sufficient, the eye care professional may need to re-evaluate the glaucoma treatment plan or the use of contact lenses to find a more suitable solution that ensures the effective management of glaucoma and the comfort and health of the eyes during lens wear.

Help Us Provide Hope

People with glaucoma can wear contact lenses, provided they take appropriate precautions and consult with their eye care professional. Maintaining regular eye check-ups, choosing the right type of lenses, and adhering to good lens hygiene practices are crucial to using contact lenses safely with glaucoma.

The diligent work of researchers continues to lead to a better understanding of glaucoma every day. As a result, there’s great hope for new and improved treatments, including superior drug delivery methods, laser treatments, and less invasive surgical techniques. You can help make that happen!

Your support can help dedicated researchers continue to discover the causes and cures for glaucoma. In addition, your donations give hope to those living with glaucoma and accelerate our search for a treatment.

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Posted May 1, 2024. This article was reviewed for medical accuracy by Reena A. Garg, MD.

Reena A. Garg, MD

Reena A. Garg, MD

Reena A. Garg, MD specializes in the medical, laser, and surgical treatment of glaucoma and cataract at Visionary Eye Doctors in Rockville, MD. She also serves as the Ophthalmology Residency Program Director at Georgetown University.