Contact Lens Rewetting Drops vs. Artificial Tears: What is the Difference?

Many of us suffer from mild dry eye.  Unfortunately, dry eye symptoms, such as irritation, mild redness, and burning, can increase with contact lens wear.  Contact lenses can cause mechanical irritation to the surface of the eye causing the tear film to break up and not function properly.  Contact lenses can also decrease the amount of oxygen to the eye, which can damage the corneal tissue.  Often, a lubricating drop is the first line of treatment that many people consider when experiencing dry eye symptoms.  However, which drops work the best?  One of the biggest decisions is whether to use a contact lens rewetting drop or an artificial tear.

The first point to consider is that not all lubricating drops are created equally.  Contact lens rewetting drops use different preservatives that work in varying ways.  Some help to coat the contact lens, making it feel more comfortable, while others bind to the ‘water’ component in your tears to help keep it from evaporating.  While each type may work temporarily, they may not be solving the issue at hand if you truly have dry eye and have dry areas on your cornea.  Some of these drops, if used frequently enough, can actually cause further evaporation of the tear film or toxicity to the corneal tissue, and can worsen your symptoms over time.

An artificial tear works differently than a contact lens rewetting drop.  An artificial tear goes beyond rebuilding the tear layer. Artificial tears are formulated to help protect the corneal tissue beneath the tear film.  When the tear film is not functioning properly, or a contact lens is contributing to irritation, areas of the cornea can become exposed and damaged.  Artificial tears work to coat the cornea so that the exposed tissue can begin to heal.  At the same time, they also build up the tear layer so that it can function properly and protect the eye from further damage.

If your eyes are feeling dry and you are a contact lens wearer, there are many considerations to take into account: what kind of solution do you use, are you on the computer for extended periods of time, how much water do you drink throughout the day, and what lubricating drops are you currently using, if any?  There are many different factors that can contribute to dry eye, and choosing the right eye drop may be only one piece of the dry eye puzzle.  Obtaining the best results requires a treatment plan created specifically for you by your eye doctor.