If you’ve been diagnosed with glaucoma, you may be wondering if you can still wear contacts.
In some cases, it is possible to continue wearing contacts even if you have glaucoma.
However, contact lenses may no longer be an option in more severe cases or when the pressure rise is rapid.
This article will explore whether or not people with glaucoma should wear contacts and the risks and benefits of doing so!
All About Glaucoma
Glaucoma is a disease that can develop over time and damage the optic nerve. Typically, it is linked to high intraocular pressure in your eye.
It is considered one of the leading causes of blindness in adults, specifically those who are older than 40 years old.
Glaucoma is not a sudden, painless change in vision, and it does not always have symptoms.
However, it gets worse over time. That’s why it is important to schedule regular eye exams to determine the health of your eyes.
The most common form of glaucoma is primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG).
According to the National Eye Institute, this type affects about three million Americans.
Is Glaucoma a One Disease?
Glaucoma is a group of eye conditions usually caused by too much pressure in your eyes. If left untreated, it can damage your optic nerve and result in vision loss—even blindness.
The good news is that glaucoma can often be controlled with medication and/or surgery.
While there are many different types of glaucoma, the most common is open-angle glaucoma.
This type of glaucoma often has no early warning signs, so it’s important to have regular eye exams even if you don’t have any symptoms.
Other less common types of this condition include:
Closed-angle glaucoma: Also known as narrow-angle or acute glaucoma is a medical emergency, which is the most serious form and causes a sudden increase in pressure.
It can lead to permanent loss of vision if it’s not treated right away.
Congenital glaucoma: This type occurs at birth and affects about one in every 100,000 babies in the United States.
Children born with congenital glaucoma may:
- Have clouded corneas
- Have iris problems
- Be sensitive to light
- Have distorted eyeballs
Parents of babies with congenital glaucoma should seek medical attention immediately because if left untreated, the pressure in their eyes will increase quickly.
Normal-tension glaucoma: This type is characterized by normal eye pressure but an optic nerve that slowly degenerates, resulting in vision loss over time.
You may be at a higher risk of developing this type if you have:
- High blood pressure
- Are of African-American descent
- Family history of glaucoma
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
- Heart disease
As with open-angle glaucoma, there are no early warning signs for normal-tension glaucoma, so it’s important to see your doctor regularly to check for early signs of vision loss.
Warning Signs of Glaucoma
In many cases, glaucoma has no warning signs until the damage is already done. This is why it’s important to get regular eye exams, even if you don’t have any symptoms.
However, there are some key warning signs that you should be aware of.
- Changes in your vision, such as blurry vision or seeing halos around lights
- Red eyes
- A sudden increase in eye pressure
- Pain in the eyes
- Sensitivity to light
- Cloudy looking eyes
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to see an ophthalmologist as soon as possible.
Early detection and treatment are essential for preventing further damage.
Striking Age and Gender
Though there is no striking age for glaucoma, it is more common in older people.
Not surprisingly, the risk of blindness from glaucoma doubles with each decade after the age of 40.
For example, primary open-angle glaucoma prevalence increases from 0.25% at 40 years to about 12% at 80 years. However, glaucoma can affect young adults as well.
So, what about gender?
The gender difference in glaucoma is not fully understood, but research shows women are also more at risk for glaucoma than men.
In fact, worldwide, women outnumber men in glaucoma cases, representing 60% of all glaucoma types combined.
This is particularly among Asian and Alaskan Native populations, where glaucoma is three times more common in women than men.
Also, older women stand a greater risk for glaucoma as well as glaucoma blindness.
The reason for this is not completely clear, but it may be due to differences in anatomy or hormones.
Whatever the reason, all women need to be aware of their risk and get regular eye tests.
Causes of Glaucoma
There are a variety of factors that can lead to glaucoma, but the most common one is an increase in eye pressure.
The aqueous fluid is the eye’s watery, clear fluid produced by the ciliary body and the iris.
This fluid helps keep the eye healthy by nourishing the lens and cornea, and it also helps to maintain intraocular pressure (IOP) in a normal range.
When the aqueous fluid production increases or when drainage is blocked, IOP can increase and cause damage to the optic nerve.
This is why high eye pressure is the most common cause of glaucoma.
There are other less common causes of glaucoma, such as:
- Eye injury or tumors
- Inflammatory diseases like uveitis
- A structural defect in the angle where the iris meets the cornea
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Heart disease
In other cases, glaucoma can be a side effect of certain medications such as eye drops, corticosteroids, or antihistamines.
Symptoms & Causes
While glaucoma symptoms usually don’t appear until eye pressure has already been elevated for some time, symptoms can sometimes occur before eye damage is visible.
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to see an eye doctor as soon as possible.
In some cases, cataracts can be a symptom of glaucoma. A cataract is a cloudy area in the eye’s lens that can make it difficult to see.
This cloudiness may develop slowly and cause no problems for a long time.
In many cases, cataracts develop when aging or injury changes the eye’s tissue lens.
As a result, the proteins and fibers found in the eye’s lens begin to break down or clump together, causing eye damage and vision changes.
Some inherited genetic disorders can also increase your risk of cataract development in other cases.
And in rare cases, long-use of steroid medications can also cause eye damage that leads to cataract development.
Nobody likes having red eyes, but it can be a sign that something is wrong for people with glaucoma.
The eye pressure associated with glaucoma can cause the tiny blood vessels in your eye to expand and become visible. This makes your eyes look red and irritated.
Also, when eye drops for eye pressure aren’t working properly, the pressure builds up and causes inflammation. This can also cause your eyes to look red and irritated.
Some people who have acute glaucoma may experience stomach instability as a symptom.
The stomach instability symptoms are often attributed to the oculoabdominal reflex, which occurs in response to the corneoscleral stretch induced by high eye pressure.
This eye pressure can be as high as one millimeter per minute.
This reflex can cause abdominal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, cramping, and pain.
However, it is important to note that this reflex has not been definitively linked to these stomach instability symptoms.
More research is needed to determine if there is a direct link between the ocular abdominal reflex and stomach instability in glaucoma people.
While glaucoma is not typically associated with headaches, but in some cases, they can occur.
This is typically when there is a form of acute angle-closure glaucoma that causes an abrupt rise in eye pressure.
This can cause a sudden headache brought on by increased intraocular pressure.
Headaches are also more common with secondary glaucoma when other conditions present may have caused the high-pressure condition to develop in the first place.
These include diabetes, vascular disease, and others.
Pain in Eye
Generally, glaucoma is not painful. That is why it is often called the “sneak thief of sight.”
For example, the most common form of glaucoma, primary open-angle glaucoma, usually has a slow increase in pressure.
However, there are other forms of glaucoma that can be painful.
In an acute angle-closure attack, for example, eye pressure rises rapidly and causes severe throbbing eye pain that may be described as the “worst eye pain of my life.”
The cornea can also become cloudy during an attack.
There are also secondary forms of angle-closure glaucoma that can cause eye pain, such as neovascular glaucoma.
This type of glaucoma is often linked to diabetic retinopathy or retinal vessel blockage.
Mostly, it is characterized by the gradual closure of the drainage angle due to new blood vessels that grow on the iris (the colored part of the eye) and in the drainage angle.
Over time, the entire drainage angle becomes blocked, and eye pressure is very high.
This can cause pain in the affected eye and glaucoma headaches that may be felt behind the eyes or near the temples of your head.
If you are experiencing any type of severe or throbbing eye pain, please consult your eye doctor as soon as possible.
Typically, glaucoma is a slowly progressive disease that can take years to develop, but certain situations might cause glaucoma to progress faster than usual.
One of these is degeneration and damage to nerve cells. When this happens, your glaucoma symptoms can progress faster than usual.
Other factors may contribute to faster progression:
- Increased eye pressure (intraocular hypertension)
- Immune system problems
- Abnormalities in the structure of your optic nerve
The cornea is a vital part of the eye because it helps protect the eye’s inner structures and contributes to good vision.
Glaucoma can cause changes in the shape of the cornea, which can lead to blurred vision and other symptoms.
The increased intraocular pressure in the eye may lead to a drop in blood flow to the cornea tissues.
A lack of oxygenated blood going to these tissues makes them susceptible to cell death (necrosis), which causes swelling and greater curvature of the cornea.
Other causes of corneal challenges as a symptom of glaucoma include:
- Long-term use of steroids, which can cause thinning of the cornea
- Use of contact lenses, which can increase the risk for infection and other problems
- Trauma to the eye, such as a puncture or scratch
- Inflammation in the eye, such as iritis (eye redness) or uveitis (uvea swelling), can lead to corneal edema
- Aging of the cornea – This natural process leads to gradual stiffening and loss of transparency. In people with glaucoma, this may happen more rapidly
- Diabetes, which can cause glaucoma and an increased risk for corneal edema
Precautions & Cure
Though glaucoma cannot be cured, it can be managed. Remember, it is a serious eye disease that can cause permanent damage if left untreated.
Fortunately, there are a number of precautions you should take to reduce the risk of glaucoma developing or worsening.
Regular Eye Checkup With The Experts
Early detection is key to preventing vision loss from glaucoma.
That’s why it’s important for everyone, especially those at risk of the disease, to have regular eye exams.
During your appointment, the doctor will measure the pressure inside your eyes and look for any signs of the disease.
And if they discover that you have glaucoma or glaucoma eye, they will develop a treatment plan that’s right for you. This may include prescription eye pressure drops or glaucoma surgery.
Regular eye exams can also help monitor how well your treatment plan is working and whether or not there has been a change in the health of your eyes.
Even if you don’t have any symptoms, it’s important to have regular eye exams. The earlier glaucoma is detected, the better the chances of preserving vision.
Follow Your Eye Doctor’s Advice
If you’ve been diagnosed with this eye condition, be sure to follow your glaucoma eye doctor’s advice.
This includes taking any glaucoma medication you are prescribed properly and getting regular glaucoma eye exams, even if your symptoms aren’t bad or don’t seem to be changing.
By doing so, you’ll be able to monitor glaucoma eye condition and ensure it doesn’t get worse.
Besides, following your doctor’s advice is the best way to maintain glaucoma eye health and avoid any complications that could arise from delaying treatment.
It might seem like a hassle, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry when glaucoma is involved!
Use Prescribed Contact Lenses for Glaucoma
Many people with glaucoma are prescribed contact lenses as part of their treatment plan.
Contacts can help reduce eye pressure and keep the optic nerve healthy.
They can also help decrease symptoms of pain or discomfort that are associated with high eye pressure.
In some cases, contact lenses may be prescribed in addition to glasses for glaucoma treatment.
This is especially true if you have a high prescription or if your eye condition results in significant distortion of vision.
For eye drop treatments, you may continue to use your contact lenses.
However, you should remove the lenses before using any drops and wait at least 15 minutes after using the drops before replacing the contacts.
On the flip side, in surgical treatments for glaucoma, you will have to discontinue contact lens use temporarily.
Talk to your doctor about the best way to wear contacts while being treated for glaucoma.
They will be able to provide the best course of action based on what type of treatment plan they have prescribed for you.
There are diﬀerent types of contact lenses that you might choose from.
Rigid gas-permeable lenses: These lenses are made of a hard plastic that allows oxygen to pass through the cornea.
This type of lens is often prescribed for people with keratoconus, a condition in which the cornea thins and bulges out.
Gas permeable lenses also correct a high degree of astigmatism.
They allow excellent vision, but they may be difficult to insert and remove due to rigidity.
In addition, these lenses require periodic cleaning during daily wear for people with dry eyes or other corneal conditions, such as recurrent corneal erosion syndrome (RCE).
Soft contact lenses: As the name suggests, these lenses are made of a soft, elastic material that allows oxygen to go through the cornea and conform to its shape.
These lenses are often made of silicone hydrogel material, which allows more oxygen to pass through the lens.
They are also more comfortable than gas-permeable lenses because they have a greater degree of flexibility.
However, soft lenses may not be good glasses for glaucoma patients because of their tendency to deposit protein deposits on the cornea. This can reduce vision quality and increase discomfort over time.
They also come with and without corrective powers for glasses glaucoma patients who have vision problems caused by corneal irregularities due to the disease process itself.
Extended wear contact lenses: These lenses are similar to soft contacts except that they can be worn overnight for up to 30 days at a time.
This type of lens is often prescribed for people with dry eyes because they allow more oxygen to reach the cornea than traditional soft lenses.
However, you should discontinue their use if you experience any problems such as redness, pain, or discharge.
Daily disposable contact lenses: These are soft contacts that do not need to be cleaned or disinfected because they are discarded after each use.
Unlike traditional glasses, they have a low risk for adverse reactions since there is no lens interaction with the cornea and tear film over time.
However, these lenses are more expensive than other types of contacts.
To put it all together
Contact lenses can provide a solution for patients with glaucoma if they are not too severe or the pressure rise is gradual. However, there are many to choose from depending on the severity of your condition. Whether you need soft contacts or hard lenses, talk with your doctor and together come up with a plan for what type will work best for you. Remember that if the pressure in one eye is higher than normal, it may be necessary to wear glasses as well as contact lenses at first until the problem resolves itself.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can Contacts Make Glaucoma Worse?
There is no evidence that contact lenses worsen glaucoma. In fact, for some people, they may provide a better quality of life than glasses.
Does Wearing Contacts Increase Eye Pressure?
There is no evidence to suggest that contact lenses can increase eye pressure. In fact, for some people, the opposite may be true as they provide a better quality of life than glasses. However, you should not wear contacts if your doctor has advised against them because of high pressure in one or both eyes.
Can You Use Contact Eye Drops Without Contacts?
Yes, you can use over-the-counter eye drops to help with dry eyes and other conditions whether or not you are wearing contacts. However, it is important to speak with your doctor about the type of drop that is best for you. In addition, some eye drops may be harmful if used while wearing contacts.
Can You Use Regular Eye Drops With Contacts?
Yes, you can use over-the-counter eye drops as long as they are preservative-free and not designed to be used with contacts. However, it is important that your doctor knows if you have a contact lens in place before using any type of eye drops.
Can Contacts Make You Blind?
There is no evidence that contact lenses can make you go blind. In fact, for people with glaucoma, wearing contacts may actually help to preserve vision. They can help reduce pressure on the eye and improve blood flow, both of which are important for preventing further vision loss in people with glaucoma. Talk to your doctor about whether contacts are a good option for you if you have glaucoma.