Trouble With Solutions: The Hidden Cause Of Eye Allergies In Contact Lens Wearers

Your eyes do not deceive you; if they are red, itchy, and swollen, there's a good chance you have developed an eye allergy.  You may be tempted to blame the usual cast of characters--pollen, pets, or dust--but if you are a contact lens wearer who has never suffered from eye allergies before, there could be another culprit.  One of the most frequent, but unexpected, sources of eye allergies is contact lens solution. 

A carefully balanced mixture, contact lens solution can contain many complicated ingredients to disinfect and clean your lenses.  However, a sensitivity to these components can materialize at any time, even after years of benign use.  If you've had an allergic reaction to your contact lens solution, you don't have to abandon your contacts permanently for a dowdy pair of specs just yet. Follow these steps and get back to comfortable contact lens wear.


When your eyes are acting up, begin by giving them a break.  Switching to glasses temporarily is important while you let the allergic reaction subside.  Resting your eyes will give you time to seek treatment and find an answer to your problem.


If resting your eyes is the first step, calling your doctor should be a close second. Your eye-care specialist has experience in treating problems just like yours and can be an invaluable resource.  Skipping this step could prolong your misery, so make the call right away.

Your doctor will probably want to examine you to make sure that your symptoms result from an allergic reaction and not an infection.  Take your old contact lenses with you so they can inspect them for tell-tale mineral deposits, a sign of contact lens solution allergy.  During your appointment, you may want to ask your doctor to prescribe allergy drops to ease your discomfort; they can be very effective in calming your troublesome symptoms.


After confirming you are allergic to your solution, you will need to find a new product.  Fortunately, you have many options available. Determining which ones do not irritate your eyes may take some trial and error, but with so many choices available, you should find a formula that works for you.

  • All-in-one solutions are popular because they are designed to quickly clean, sterilize, and preserve your lenses in one step.  However, you may be more likely to have sensitivities to this kind of formulation.  Happily, there are dozens of brands on the market, each with slightly different components.  Try different manufacturers and look for "sensitive eye" alternatives that are designed to be gentle and less allergenic.  Your eye-care provider may be able to provide you with samples so you can test them before purchasing a full-sized bottle.
  • If you continue to have difficulties with all-in-one solutions, consider switching to a hydrogen peroxide-based system.  These solutions use a buffered, ophthalmic-quality hydrogen peroxide and are less likely to cause allergic reactions.  Your lenses are placed in a cylindrical case and covered with the solution.  Then a platinum disk embedded in the case neutralizes the peroxide, leaving your lenses disinfected and ready to wear.  This kind of lens cleaning system is more cumbersome, as the lenses must soak for a minimum of 4 hours before you can reinsert them.  However, it is very effective if you have allergies to more traditional solutions.
  • Saline-only systems are a final option if you are allergic to all other solutions.  They contain buffered salt and distilled water, but no disinfectants or preservatives.  Doctors do not recommend them for anything but the most severe allergy cases because the risk of infection is much greater in a solution that does not sterilize your lenses.  Still, if you strictly follow the instructions, they can be an option if nothing else works for you.


If you still struggle with allergic reactions to contact lens solution, you may find success with a "daily" contact lens.  These single-use lenses are designed to be worn once and thrown away, eliminating the need for cleaning and disinfecting altogether.  Because you get a new pair every day, they are known for their comfort.  At around a dollar a day, they are affordable, convenient, and for many allergy sufferers, they are the best option.

An allergy to your contact lens solution does not have to spell the end of contact lens wear.  With patience and help from your eye care specialist, you can find a solution that works for you.