Could You Have an Allergy to Contacts? How to Know and What to Do

The phrase “allergic reaction” might conjure up images of hives or the sudden sensation of restricted airways, but did you know that an allergy can develop slowly? In fact, you could gradually become allergic to things you use every day, like your soap, favorite beverage, or even your contact lenses.

Making Contact

If you develop an allergy to contacts, you’ll first notice some irritation. If the condition is not treated promptly, redness, swelling, and discharge may develop; many patients also describe a feeling of heaviness in the eyelids.

What exactly is happening in there? Our bodies, and especially our eyes, are remarkably adept at dealing with disturbances. When a foreign object enters an area like the eye socket, a healthy body will set a series of responses into motion. Unfortunately, your immune system may see corrective lenses as intruders, so the same chain reaction that helps you cope with bacteria or debris can interfere with your ability to wear contacts comfortably.

A Peek Behind the Curtains

As your eye responds to the contact lens, inflammation causes the tissue to buckle and form small bumps called papillae. The bumps are visible when a doctor inverts the eyelid to have a look. According to Medscape, when these bumps continue to enlarge—and they can get as big as a millimeter each—the condition becomes “giant” papillary conjunctivitis, or GPC.

Before diagnosing an allergy to contacts, your doctor may rule out other factors, notes the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Are you reacting to pollen or dust, perhaps? Have the materials of your lenses deteriorated over time? Even improper fit can create an allergy-like response, so your doctor might test the tightness of your lenses.

GPC isn’t difficult to diagnose though, since it is so common and observable. In fact, the condition is so widespread that Medscape notes that doctors are advised to initially treat every contact lens wearer as potentially having GPC. But do not confuse “common” with “normal.” GPC needs to be addressed before it has a chance to progress, so be sure to ask about it at your next checkup. If you’re already experiencing symptoms, make an appointment today.


The first course of action will be to relieve your eyes of the irritant. Your doctor will have you go without contacts for up to a week of detoxification and may recommend artificial tears to keep your eyes lubricated and clean. After this period, another assessment will help you and your doctor determine what’s next. Emphasis will be on prevention, which means a new cleaning regimen, self-assessments, and potential change in lens type.

If you are convinced that you’ve found a wholly allergy-free type of lenses, remember that according to Medscape, every type of contact lens has been associated with giant papillary conjunctivitis, so no version is completely risk free. The best way to prevent GPC is to initiate a conversation with your doctor about best practices.

For questions or comments, contact Woodhams Eye Clinic.

Image source: Flickr

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