Joel Hunter, MD Refractive Surgeon, Hunter Vision Updated 10/04/19 4:37 PM
There are two main reasons why your contact lenses are blurry, and they both have to do with a piece of plastic touching your eye and moving around on it. There are other causes that may worsen your problem as well.
Now, if you’ve come across this post because you’re in need of answers, here is the question we should start with. Have you ever felt like even though you see pretty well with glasses, it’s just not as clear with your contacts? If the answer is no, then I apologize for what could be a massive waste of time if you read this article through to the end.
But if, like most people, you answered, “Yes! What’s that all about?!” then this is going to be helpful for you. Helpful enough that we shouldn’t feel too terrible about the people who see perfectly with contacts but are still reading this for some reason.
Truthfully, having blurry contacts is way more annoying than hearing about a problem you don’t have. That’s what I try to remind myself of whenever I have to listen to the pre-flight instructions about my seat cushion being a flotation device if the airplane lands in a lake. “This is annoying to hear again,” I’ll think, “but not as annoying as landing in a lake on this flight from Orlando to Cleveland.”
The prevalence of blurry contacts
This issue is far more common than contact lens commercials mention. I’d guess one in every three patients I meet with contacts mentions that they have trouble with blurriness. Granted, there’s a bit of selection bias in the group that I’m talking to since they are visiting me at a place specifically designed to get people out of contacts.
But since the problem is common, and since people sometimes want to know why, it seemed like listing out the reasons might help someone who would rather read about it than go to a doctor. Personally, I’m definitely for reading something instead of talking to a doctor.
Two main reasons your contacts are blurry
The first reason your contacts are making your vision blurry is the most obvious, and it has to do with the idea of contacts themselves. We hear the word so often, that we don’t think to ask the question, “Why are they named contacts?” If we did, it would be immediately clear that the reason is because they have contact with your eye. They are literally “contact” lenses.
It’s lucky for contacts that they were an immediate big hit, because even though I’m not a marketing guy it seems like naming something for its most naturally revolting feature is probably frowned upon when naming products. It’d be like naming deodorant “armpit smear.” I would have named contacts something like “clearies” or “hocus focuses.” But they are contacts, and because they are in contact with your eye, there is a collection of debris, mucus, and protein stuck to the surface of a foreign object in your eye.
That buildup of foreign matter on the contact lens can also be a result of the contacts already past their wear period or past their expiration date. I’ve talked to many patients who overwear contacts as a cost-savings plan. There’s a fine line that separates proper hygiene from stinginess.
The second reason people can find contacts more blurry than glasses or LASIK (if they’ve had it), has to do with the prescription. If someone has no astigmatism, then a contact correcting pure myopia (near-sightedness) or hyperopia (far-sightedness) can usually hit the nail on the head.
But even minor amounts of astigmatism (one diopter or less) are kind of a no man’s land for contacts. Astigmatism correction goes as low as 0.75 diopters, which is pretty low, but people almost universally hate contacts with low astigmatism correction even when they’re prescribed correctly. The reason is those low levels of astigmatism are enough to affect the vision, but not enough to weather the natural rotation of the contact.
When, not if, the contact rotates several degrees depending on the blink, the fluctuations in vision are so annoying that almost everyone in this prescription range chooses to get a prescription that ignores the astigmatism altogether. And there are a ton of people with astigmatism in the range of a diopter or less; it’s about half the population. That’s not even an estimate.
Warren Hill has this famous chart of astigmatism measured in 6,000 eyes and it was just over 50 percent with one diopter or less of astigmatism. (A quick aside, Dr. Hill is so impossibly smart that when I attend his lectures at meetings, I get distracted looking around the room because of how great it is to see 500 eye doctors making the face you’d make if you were trying to multiply 987 times 754 in your head.)
And then there are other reasons too
Aside from the two reasons stated above, there are other causes for your contact lenses becoming a terrible nuisance.
Contact lenses with high water content tend to dry out much faster. While it creates more moisture to the eye, the water can easily evaporate from the lens so blurriness is likely to happen. In addition, bacteria and other deposits can be attracted more easily because of the components in the lens.
Furthermore, a study by the National Research Council found out that dehydration in the cornea is likely to occur when thin contact lenses with high water composition. Eventually, the epithelium, which covers the front part of the cornea to prevent the entry of bacteria, has a possibility of being damaged. When your cornea changes, it’s not only your contact lenses that can be blurry but your overall vision as well.
Contacts with high water content are also made very thin and that's why they are more fragile than low-water types. However, a research study that compares these two revealed that while high-water contact lenses may provide better satisfaction in terms of vision quality and comfort when fitting, users don’t mind the fragility of the lenses as well as the unscheduled replacements when damaged. So, between the two, you may experience more comfort with better moisture but may have to frequently replace your contacts to maintain proper hygiene (although as the research reveals, it’s not that much of a hassle anyway).
Speaking of poor hygiene, contact lenses’ fuzziness may also be a result of lenses that are not cleaned properly. The American Optometric Association (AOA) found out that 88 percent of American adults have poor contact lens hygiene practices such as sleeping in their contacts, swimming in them, and replacing them and the cases more infrequently than what was prescribed.
And if you’ve heard rumors about people sharing their contact lenses, well, it happens. It’s become more common, like sharing makeup and hairbrushes – things that we know violate the Germaphobe Code of Practice. But contact lenses? Yes, it happens… a lot.
Apart from wearing contacts that are not fitted to one’s eyes, the risks of developing bacterial infections may develop too. Who knows if the original owner of the contacts practices good hygiene, right? They may not even wash their hands before putting them on. And even if they tell you they regularly clean it with a saline solution, you wouldn’t want bacteria from other’s contact lenses in your eyes.
Your environment may also contribute to the blurriness. If you work or stay in areas where dust, dander, or debris are heavy, the contact lens surface can easily attract these environmental allergens. In no time, the blurriness will set in and your eyes will get irritated.
Blurriness can also be a result of ill-fitting contacts. Eye doctors often recommend having custom contact lenses to fit well on patients with irregular-shaped corneas. I’ve talked to patients who complain about having contacts that turned out to be too “cloudy” after a few days only to find out the problem was an improper fit. If you have an unusual corneal shape (which is common among adults) and you don’t wear a made-to-measure contact lens, then fogginess may likely result after a few days of wearing it.
Contact lenses may also be the reason why eyes dry out and therefore have less clarity. The eyes may not produce enough moisture brought by an imbalance of water, fatty oils and mucus in the tear film. If you have Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), less oil reaches the eyes and the glands can get clogged easily. When you have such a condition and you’re a frequent contact lens user, MGD may worsen because the tear film can’t tolerate your contacts in the long term.
Extended wear is another cause. Just because your contacts feel good in your eyes doesn’t mean it’s good to prolong its use beyond the prescribed lens lifespan. Daily wear disposables commonly last from week to two compared to daily disposables that are simply discarded after a single use. On the other hand, extended wear disposables, as the name implies, are great for use in longer periods. However, it’s not intended for everyone since some people’s eyes cannot tolerate wearing contacts overnight. An eye doctor can determine if your eyes are good for extended wear disposables or not.
So, if the expiration date on the contact lens package indicates that it’s due for replacement, do not insist on scrimping on your expenses for eye care by reusing your existing contacts. It can lead to much more expensive and tragic problems.
Change in prescription is also another factor. For instance, those who are in their 40s require periodic eye exams because it is in this stage that more changes take place. Thus, you may experience difficulty in focusing on objects or observing things in finer detail. Those in their 60s, however, have more vision changes so expect things to get worse when you’re using contact lenses to see clearly.
However, vision doesn’t only change because of aging. Cataracts, glaucoma, retinal detachment, diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration can bring about swift changes.
So, digression aside, it’s frustrating wearing contacts when you’ve got just enough astigmatism that you have to get contacts that completely ignore it.
Solutions to blurry contact lenses
So what should you do then if you have blurry contact lenses? To get straight to the matter, there’s a lot you can do to fix your situation (although I stand by what I mentioned above that a better solution may be to stop wearing them).
First of all, the fact that contact lenses are – for lack of a better word – in contact with your cornea means there’s a barrier to the natural diffusion of oxygen to your cornea and evaporative water loss from your cornea, which prevents swelling. The best contacts are the ones with the ability to best mimic not being on the eye. As you can guess, however, the best possible way to emulate nothing being on the eye is to have nothing on the eye. So not wearing contacts wins that contest every time.
But if you can’t avoid wearing contact lenses because it’s more convenient for you instead of eyeglasses, there’s always a better solution.
1. Practice good eye hygiene
The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) lists 14 tips on how to take care of your contact lenses. From removing contact lenses before taking a shower to keeping the tip of the solution bottle clean all the time, there are a lot of tips that could help you.
2. Determine if contacts are right for you
If wearing contacts makes you suffer not only from blurry vision but also eye infections, then it’s time to talk to your doctor about it. There’s a big chance that you’ll have to avoid wearing contact lenses.
3. Avoid dust and debris
It’s time to clean your room and dust off your shelves. If your workplace brings in allergens, you may want to ask your doctor on how to best mitigate the situation.
4. Stop wearing them
I’m repeating myself here. You have an option to replace your contact lenses with eye glasses but I know this is not viable for those who have gotten used to seeing without heavy frames. Eye surgery is something that you can consider and LASIK is an option that works incredibly well for good candidates.
LASIK and blurry contact lenses
LASIK can get rid of astigmatism and glasses can usually effectively neutralize it, and both leave the eye free to be bared to the environment in which it was designed to work. It’s the reason most people who wear glasses (or wore them before getting LASIK) have wondered at one point or another why they felt like their contacts were blurry.
If you want to know more about it, I’ve prepared this really cool video explaining what LASIK is all about. Yes, it’s really cool.
If you’re looking to get out of your contact lenses, you may also check if you’re an ideal candidate so you’d know if you can get your hopes up with your current lifestyle and any phobias you may have about it.
Can I afford LASIK?
Now that you’ve come to know about the possibility of finding a remedy for your blurry vision because of contacts, it all boils down to the question: Can I afford a LASIK procedure?
My advice is not to ask first about how much is LASIK. Rather, it’s important to consider this: will the benefits of LASIK be something that is worthwhile in the long-term? Given my lengthy discussion above, I meet a lot of people who wish they’d gotten LASIK sooner, as I wrote in my earlier post.
But let’s face it. Affordability is an important consideration too. There’s no question that LASIK is a great personal investment and we understand that paying out-of-pocket is something impossible at this time.
The good news, however, is that eye surgery cost in Orlando, Florida is now more affordable with a payment plan tailored to your tight budget.
At Hunter Vision, we fully understand the value of taking care of your eyes with or without the expensive procedures. You get expert care from one of Florida's best eye doctors BUT without asking you to dig a hole in your pocket though our payment plan.
Your eyes are too important to try to save a few dollars. Go somewhere that charges enough for you to be comfortable throughout the process.
We see far too many patients who tried to save a few dollars elsewhere end up here to see if we can fix what the other guys did. Most of our patients pay a bit over $130 per month at 0% interest for 24 months to change their whole world. I’d love to see you here, but I care way more that the place you choose is giving you all you deserve.
And to the people who haven’t wondered that, reading all the way to the end of this article through your perfectly functioning contact lenses, you have my respect. I will remember your patience and perspective the next time I listen to the pre-flight instructions.
Author: Joel Hunter, MD is an Ophthalmologist, Refractive Surgeon, and the Founder of Hunter Vision, a LASIK Orlando Clinic in Florida. A recognized and respected specialist in vision correction who has performed a countless number of refractive surgeries, Joel gives lectures across the country and trains fellow doctors in the newest LASIK surgery techniques.