I'm Allergic to my Contact Lenses?

8:45 AM

Somewhere in the distance a bone chilling screech breaks the silence of the exam room.  "You mean, I can't wear my contact lenses at all?  For an entire week?"  If you are a contact lens wearer, nothing chills the heart more than hearing the dreaded words: "you have to wear your glasses."

No, your optometrist is not trying to ruin your life.  Sometimes taking a contact lens break is the only way to heal your eye enough to let you wear contact lenses safely in the future.  One of the conditions where contact lens wear can cause major issues is a diagnosis of Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis (commonly abbreviated GPC).  In a rough translation to layman's terms, this means "giant" allergy--to your contact lenses!.  Sounds pleasant right?  And GPC is one of the most common side effects of contact lens wear, so it is a condition that commonly prevents patients from being able to wear contact lenses.
GPC is a condition where the eye becomes allergic and rejects contact lens wear.  The tissue under the eyelids becomes covered in bumps called papillae, causing discomfort, blurry vision, the inability to wear contact lenses.

What are the symptoms of GPC?

GPC has some tell-tale signs that make a diagnosis almost as easy as seeing the large papillary reaction underneath the eyelid!  
  • Excessive movement of your contact lens
  • Discomfort when you remove your contact lens
  • Blurry vision that worsens towards the end of the day
  • Mucus or filmy discharge over your contact lens
What is the treatment of GPC?

In some mild cases, an allergy eye drop and a week in glasses may be all it takes to get rid of GPC.  Steroids are also a common prescription, and sometimes required to get rid of more advanced cases.  If you have had several episodes of GPC, there are a few things you can do to prevent more recurrences:
  • Don't sleep in your contact lenses
  • Throw your contact lenses away on time; be that monthly or every 2 weeks depending on your brand
  • Use Clearcare contact lens solution or a good rub with your multi-purpose solution
  • Change to Daily Disposable contact lenses
  • Have LASIK
Just remember, like any allergy, you may be comfortable in contact lenses for years before you develop an allergy to them.  Once you do, your body will always be sensitized to react against your lens or build-up on your lens.  A diagnosis of GPC means that you will permanently need to change your method of contact lens wear or cleaning habits to prevent a recurrence.  The best solution is to be vigilant with your contact lenses from day one -- always follow your doctor's guidelines for disposal time and always thoroughly clean your lenses if you wear anything other than daily disposables!

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  1. Your articles are exceptional because they are simple short and succinct. Very nice! I'm envious. Not the Biblical kind, but the kind that makes me wish I could write as well.
    Concerning GPC: I've always thought it was important to tell my patients that they are not allergic to their contact lenses. Lens materials are inert. It does not mix with the blood stream. The allergy is to denatured protein, but it is not an auto-immune reaction. Rather, it is a T-cell reaction.
    Dan David, OD
    Family Eye Clinic
    Pullman, WA

    1. hank you for your post! You are right, "allergic to contact lenses" is a bit of a simplification of what's really going on. Maybe we should say "your body chemistry is causing yourto have an inflammatory reaction to contact lens wear"?

  2. It is strange that I only get the mucus goop in my eyes when I put in a new pair of contacts. After about 2 weeks the discharge ("goop") goes away and I'm fine. There is no pain or redness associated with the contacts and it only lasts for 1-2 weeks. I've tried cleaning the new contacts before I even put them in. Still goop....