New contact lens could aid dry eye

December 15, 2010

As many as 20 million Americans suffer from some degree of dry eye syndrome. Although artificial tears and ointments help many patients, for some, symptoms are so severe that their eyes sting or feel like sandpaper, and nothing relieves the discomfort.

Now, doctors at Duke University are offering those patients something new and pretty simple to relieve the pain.

Jamie Harwood is a woman on the go, but she developed dry eye a few months ago.

"It really changed my life," said Harwood.

Her eyes got so irritated and painful, she didn't want to leave home.

"People stopped asking me to go places and do things because they knew I would just turn them down because of my eyes," said Harwood.

Today, she's trying out a new pair of contact lenses. But for Harwood, they're not to help her see, they're to help her severe dry eye disease.

Filled with fluid, the lens vaults over the cornea, landing on the white sclera of the eye.

"The vaulted section is filled with a sterile no preserved saline, which acts as a liquid bandage to cushion the cornea," said Jill Bryant, OD, FAAO, optometrist, medical director of contact lens, Duke University.

The dry eye contact is much larger than standard contact lenses, custom made with or without vision correction. The lens can be worn all day every day just like a regular contact.

Now, thanks to her new contacts, Harwood can use her eyes for the really important stuff. More fun, and no more pain.

"I'm really myself again. It's given me back my life," said Harwood.

Not everyone with dry eye should wear these lenses. It is made for the more severe cases that don't get relief with drops and other conventional therapy. This is not a lens you can buy online, it has to be custom fitted. Measuring the eye for these prescription lenses costs about a thousand dollars, and the lenses themselves can be three hundred dollars or more, depending on the clinic. Most insurance policies don't cover the lenses.

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