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Scleral Lenses for Dry Eye: How They Can Help

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A contact lens case with scleral contacts and a contact lens insertion and removal kit.

When your eyes don’t get the proper amount of moisture they need, it can result in dry eye disease. Dry eyes can be a chronic issue and may affect anyone in your family. The first step to finding relief is visiting your optometrist for a comprehensive eye exam to get to the bottom of your symptoms. 

Traditional contacts can be tough to wear with dry eyes. Your eye doctor can help manage your dry eyes with specialty contacts like scleral lenses to help you find relief.

Let’s take a closer look at how dry eye disease develops, how scleral lenses work, and how your optometrist can help.

Understanding Dry Eye

Dry eye disease can develop when your eyes aren’t producing enough tears, or your tears are evaporating too quickly. 

Your tear film consists of 3 layers:

  • The oily outer layer
  • The watery middle layer
  • The inner mucus layer

Dry eyes can be caused by an inability of the tear film to lubricate your eyes effectively. An interruption to your tear production process can cause inflammation and result in meibomian gland dysfunction. When this happens, the small glands in your eyelids that produce the oily layer of tears become clogged and cause instability in the tear film. 

What Causes Dry Eye?

Dry eye disease is becoming more prevalent, and that’s due in large part to a variety of risk factors that include: 

  • The natural aging process
  • Increased digital screen time, leading to digital eye strain
  • Allergies
  • Ill-fitting contact lenses
  • Laser eye surgery
  • Diseases like diabetes, thyroid disease, and others

Your environment can also play a role, especially in a colder climate like Alberta. It’s important to look out for the symptoms of dry eye disease, which can include:

  • A stinging, gritty, or scratchy feeling in your eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Blurry vision
  • Sensitivity to light

The good news is, your optometrist can help you find solutions to manage dry eyes and get relief. 

A close-up of a woman wearing contact lenses. Scleral lenses can be an excellent option for patient's  with dry eyes

How Scleral Lenses Can Help

Scleral contact lenses are a specialty type of rigid gas permeable contact lens that sits on the sclera (the white of your eyes), unlike traditional contact lenses that rest directly on the cornea. Scleral lenses can be an excellent option for patients who may not be able to wear contacts due to issues such as dry eye, keratoconus, and hard-to-fit eyes.

Scleral lenses vault over the cornea and allow for more space, providing extra breathability by creating a fluid reservoir between the lens and the eye to keep your eyes hydrated. Due to the size of scleral lenses, the extra coverage can do wonders for your eye comfort while also allowing oxygen to reach your eyes.

There are different types of scleral contact lenses:

  • Corneo-scleral lenses and semi-scleral lenses—these lenses are much larger than traditional gas permeable lenses and rest between the cornea and the sclera.
  • Mini-scleral lenses—these lenses vault over the corneal surface and rest on the anterior sclera.
  • Full-scleral lenses—these lenses are the largest type and provide the most amount of space between the back surface of the lens and cornea.

Visiting Your Optometrist for a Fitting

Scleral contact lenses can be an excellent option to help with managing dry eye disease, but you’ll need to visit your optometrist for a comprehensive contact lens fitting to get a safe and comfortable fit.

Your eye doctor can conduct a thorough contact lens exam to determine what specialty lenses are best for your vision situation. The fitting process involves discussing hygiene and proper insertion methods. 

A trial period will also be necessary to ensure your new contact lenses fit comfortably. When the trial period is over, your optometrist can discuss your experience with you in detail to ensure you’re satisfied with your new lenses.

Innovative Solutions to Manage Dry Eyes

Dry eyes can be challenging to manage, and finding relief may be the first thing on your mind when dealing with the disease. With the dry Alberta climate playing a significant role, it’s important to schedule consistent eye exams with your optometrist to keep your eyes healthy.

Contact our team at River Heights Eye Care to schedule an appointment and see if scleral contact lenses can help you manage dry eyes.

Written by Anthony Iuliano

Dr. Iuliano graduated with an honours degree in Biological Science from the University of Calgary with plans to work in the healthcare industry. In 2008, he attended the University of Waterloo Optometry program and graduated with honours in 2012.
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