Contact lens interactions with the tear film

Aisling Mann, Brian Tighe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Biochemical changes brought about by the influence of the contact lens on the tear film are conveniently split into two categories. Firstly, the lens can remove or reduce the levels of specific components in the tear film, and secondly, the lens can augment the tear film, by stimulating the influx of new components or increasing the level of existing components. The most obvious tear film components for study in this context are lipids, proteins, mucins and electrolytes. The interactions are affected by the properties of the lens, the characteristics of the individual wearer and the wear schedule. An additional complicating factor is the fact that the lens is many times thicker than the tear film and any immobilised tear components will be more extensively exposed to oxygen and UV radiation than is the case in the absence of a lens. It is arguably the lipoidal components that are most markedly affected by lens wear, since their immobilisation on the lens surface markedly increases their susceptibility to autoxidative degradation. The limited information that is available highlights the importance of subject specificity and suggests that lipid oxidation phenomena are potentially important in contributing to the 'end of day' discomfort of symptomatic contact lens patients. It is clear that tear lipids, although regarded as relatively inert for many years, are now seen as a reactive and potentially important family of compounds in the search for understanding of contact lens-induced discomfort. The influence of the lens on tear proteins shows the greatest range of complexity. Deposition and denaturation can stimulate immune response, lower molecular weight proteins can be extensively absorbed into the lens matrix and the lens can stimulate cascade or upregulation processes leading either to the generation of additional proteins and peptides or an increase in concentration of existing components. Added to this is the stimulating influence of the lens on vascular leakage leading to the influx of plasma proteins such as albumin. The evidence from studies of mucin expression in tears is not consistent and conclusive. This is in part because sample sources, lens materials and methods of analysis vary considerably, and in some cases the study population numbers are low. Expression levels show mucin and material specificity but clear patterns of behaviour are elusive. The electrolyte composition of tears is significantly different from that of other body fluids. Sodium and potassium dominate but potassium ion concentrations in tears are much higher than in serum levels. Calcium and magnesium concentrations in tears are lower than in serum but closer to interstitial fluids. The contact lens provides the potential for increased osmolarity through enhanced evaporation and differential electrolyte concentrations between the anterior and posterior tear films. Since the changes in ocular biochemistry consequent upon contact lens wear are known to be subject-dependent - as indeed is wearer response to the lens - pre-characterisation of individual participant tear chemistry in clinical studies would enhance understanding of these complex effects.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)88-98
Number of pages11
JournalExperimental Eye Research
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


  • tear lipids
  • oxidation
  • tear protein
  • tear mucins
  • tear electrolytes
  • biotribology


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