Published in Contact Lens

When Comfort Is Key: Preventing Contact Lens Dropout

This is editorially independent content
7 min read

Read on to learn how optometrists can prevent contact lens dropout by targeting discomfort, maximizing vision, and tailoring the lens to the patient's needs.

When Comfort Is Key: Preventing Contact Lens Dropout
Unfortunately, contact lens dropout is a common occurrence in our contact lens practices. About 20% of contact lens wearers will discontinue lens wear at some point.1
Despite the development of advanced material technologies, superior optical designs, and the introduction and adoption of daily disposable modalities, dropout rates have remained unchanged over the last two decades.1-5 Further, epidemiological factors like age and gender haven’t been shown to meaningfully predict what specific types of patients might be more susceptible to discontinuing contact lens wear.2-4,6
It is frustrating to think that one in five of the contact lens wearers that we spend thoughtful, intentional time with will eventually drop out. This is a significant waste of resources and time for the patient and for doctors alike, coupled with a major revenue loss for our practices.5

What’s the good news about contact lens dropout?

I’ve led with mostly bad news so far, but there is good news when one considers contact lens dropout: Patients who drop out of contact lens wear don’t have to be dropouts forever. It has been reported that the majority of patients who discontinue lens wear will pursue a refit at some point.3 Subsequently, most of these patients who revisit lens wear can successfully resume if they are given another option.6,7
High dropout rates don’t have to be a reality for your practice. By considering the evidence of what we know about dropout and applying some easy clinical practices to your contact lens fittings, you can take steps to potentially eliminate dropout in your practice.

Prevent contact lens dropout by optimizing the ocular surface

The primary reason for contact lens discontinuation is discomfort, so it’s easy to assume that patients with signs of dry eye and overarching ocular surface issues are more likely to drop out.2-4 Interestingly, there has been little evidence to suggest that discomfort and signs of dry eye are correlated with one another.6,8,9

Giannaccare et al. reported that discontinued contact lens wearers have worse dry eye symptoms, tear break-up time, and ocular surface staining.

Shifting to the eyelids, successful contact lens wearers have been reported to have less meibomian gland tortuosity, plugging, and better meibum quality.11,12 This data encourages anyone fitting contact lenses to be proactive about optimizing ocular surface and meibomian gland health before and throughout any contact lens fitting process. Patients should understand that proper lid hygiene and regular ocular surface lubrication will prime and prepare their ocular surface to be an optimal environment for a contact lens.
I like to talk to my patients about the importance of proactive lubrication (applying artificial tears at regular intervals throughout the day) versus reactive lubrication (only using tears when the eyes feel dry). Establishing a good foundational tear film before there is ocular surface disruption may prevent discomfort in the first place. Similarly, educating on proper lid hygiene habits can prevent discomfort associated with meibomian gland issues.

Maximizing vision to avoid contact lens dropout

While general discomfort receives most of the blame for causing dropout, dissatisfaction with vision also plays a primary role. In neophyte contact lens wearers who drop out, the primary reason has actually been reported to be due to vision issues.13 Similarly, discontinued presbyopic contact lens wear cited vision as often as discomfort to be their reason for discontinuation.14 It is crucial, therefore, to ensure you are choosing the best power and optical design for your contact lens wearers.
Maximizing vision starts with ensuring you are choosing powers based on accurate refractive data. Don’t rely on refraction from past years; perform a fresh manifest refraction before choosing contact lens powers. Make sure to avoid over-minusing, and don’t forget to vertex the prescription when choosing powers. Our adult patients spend much of their day looking at digital devices, so any overcorrection in the distance can cause eyestrain and fatigue.

Selecting the best optical design for your patients

When choosing an optical design, make sure you are correcting all ametropia—astigmatism and presbyopia included. Even patients with low astigmatism prefer full toric correction when wearing soft contact lenses since it may help relieve symptoms of eyestrain.15,16 Contact lens wearers approaching and progressing through presbyopia prefer multifocal designs to monovision options, so make sure you are offering multifocals early and often to your patients experiencing eyestrain and blur at near.17,18
By optimally correcting all refractive error and addressing your patients' visual needs, you will ensure that discomfort associated with visual fatigue does not contribute to their contact lens comfort.

Tailoring the lens to your patients' needs

Throughout the fitting process, be mindful that patients understand you can address any issues with their lenses—comfort, vision, or otherwise. While it may be tempting to finalize a prescription and say, “See you next year,” regular follow-up care and communication have been shown to improve retention and dropout rates.19 This might be especially important for neophyte wearers because it has been reported that about 65% of contact lens dropout occurs within the first year of wear.4

In a world where we are used to doing things for ourselves online, it is important that contact lens wearers understand the value of being fitted by a live person who can address the nuances of their unique wearing experience. When you choose a brand for a patient, let them know why you picked that lens for them.

As well, bring awareness that other options exist in case they are not completely satisfied with the initial trial. Only about 30% of people who eventually drop out have been offered an alternative, so it is important for wearers to understand that options exist to address any issues they might have.19


Contact lens dropout is a challenge we will continue to face, but it does not have to derail your contact lens practice. By keeping the ocular surface healthy, providing precise visual correction, and having open communication with your patient, you can minimize the impact that discontinuation and dropout have on your practice and your patients.
  1. Pucker AD, Tichenor AA. A Review of Contact Lens Dropout. Clin Optom (Auckl). 2020;12:85-94.
  2. Richdale K, Sinnott LT, Skadahl E, et al. Frequency of and factors associated with contact lens dissatisfaction and discontinuation. Cornea. 2007;26(2):168-174.
  3. Pritchard N, Fonn D, Brazeau D. Discontinuation of contact lens wear: a survey. Int Contact Lens Clin. 1999;26(6):157-162.
  4. Dumbleton K, Woods CA, Jones LW, Fonn D. The impact of contemporary contact lenses on contact lens discontinuation. Eye Contact Lens. 2013;39(1):93-99.
  5. Rumpakis JMB. New Data on Contact Lens Dropouts: An International Perspective. Rev Optom. 2010;147:37-42.
  6. Young G, Veys J, Pritchard N, et al. A multi-centre study of lapsed contact lens wearers. Ophthalmic Physiol Opt. 2002;22(6):516-527.
  7. Schlanger JL. A study of contact lens failures. J Am Optom Assoc. 1993;64(3):220-224.
  8. Pult H, Purslow C, Berry M, et al. Clinical Tests for Successful Contact Lens Wear: Relationship and Predictive Potential. Optom Vis Sci. 2008;85(10):E924-929.
  9. Begley CG, Chalmers RL, Abetz L, et al. The relationship between habitual patient-reported symptoms and clinical signs among patients with dry eye of varying severity. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2003;44(11):4753-4761.
  10. Giannaccare G, Blalock W, Fresina M, et al. Intolerant contact lens wearers exhibit ocular surface impairment despite 3 months wear discontinuation. Graefes Arch Clin Exp Ophthalmol. 2016;254(9):1825-1831.
  11. Siddireddy JS, Tan J, Vijay AK, et al. Predictive Potential of Eyelids and Tear Film in Determining Symptoms in Contact Lens Wearers. Optom Vis Sci. 2018;95(11):1035-1045.
  12. Pucker AD, Jones-Jordan LA, Marx S, et al. Clinical factors associated with contact lens dropout. Cont Lens Anterior Eye. 2019;42(3):318-324.
  13. Sulley A, Young G, Hunt C, et al. Retention Rates in New Contact Lens Wearers. Eye Contact Lens. 2018;44 Suppl 1:S273-S282.
  14. Rueff EM, Varghese RJ, Brack TM, et al. A Survey of Presbyopic Contact Lens Wearers in a University Setting. Optom Vis Sci. 2016;93(8):848-854.
  15. Cox SM, Berntsen DA, Bickle KM, et al. Efficacy of Toric Contact Lenses in Fitting and Patient-Reported Outcomes in Contact Lens Wearers. Eye Contact Lens. 2018;44 Suppl 1:S296-S299.
  16. Berntsen DA, Cox SM, Bickle KM, et al. A Randomized Trial to Evaluate the Effect of Toric Versus Spherical Contact Lenses on Vision and Eyestrain. Eye Contact Lens. 2019;45(1):28-33.
  17. Woods J, Woods CA, Fonn D. Early symptomatic presbyopes--what correction modality works best?. Eye Contact Lens. 2009;35(5):221-226.
  18. Gupta N, Naroo SA, Wolffsohn JS. Visual comparison of multifocal contact lens to monovision. Optom Vis Sci. 2009;86(2):E98-E105.
  19. Sulley A, Young G, Hunt C. Factors in the success of new contact lens wearers. Cont Lens Anterior Eye. 2017;40(1):15-24.
Erin Rueff, OD, PhD, FAAO
About Erin Rueff, OD, PhD, FAAO

Dr. Erin Rueff received her Doctor of Optometry degree from The Ohio State University (OSU) College of Optometry. Upon graduation, she completed the Cornea and Contact Lens Advanced Practice Fellowship at OSU. After fellowship, she continued at OSU as a clinical instructor and completed a PhD in Vision Science. In 2018, she joined the faculty at the Southern California College of Optometry at Marshall B. Ketchum University. Dr. Rueff’s research interests include contact lens discomfort and compliance. She enjoys teaching students in the clinic and classroom on contact lens and general optometry topics. Her clinical interests include multifocals, gas permeable and scleral contact lenses, keratoconus, and dry eye.

Erin Rueff, OD, PhD, FAAO
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