There are two general types of contact lenses: soft and rigid gas permeable hard. Both have unique benefits and some may even come with a colored tint, as bifocals, or as trifocals.
Soft lenses are usually disposable and can be thrown away after a short period of use (generally every two to four weeks) or daily, depending on the prescription. Being able to have a fresh pair of lenses means less chance of infection, less cleaning, and more comfort, especially for people whose eyes naturally produce more protein that clouds lenses. Soft lenses are made of a soft plastic and are very comfortable because they hold more water than rigid gas permeable lenses. Many of the new materials provide ultraviolet (UV) protection. While most people choose soft lenses because of their benefits, there are also some disadvantages. Soft lenses easily absorb pollutants that can irritate your eyes, like lotion or soap from your hands. They are also more fragile than hard lenses and can rip or tear while cleaning.
The latest revolutions in soft contact lens technology are Daily Disposables and New Silicone Extended Wear Disposables. Daily Disposables are contacts that are only worn one time and then thrown out. The benefits of Daily Disposables include never having to clean your contact lenses, convenient replacement schedule, and reduction of dry eye and irritation problems related to preserved solutions. These lenses are excellent for allergy sufferers.
The Silicone Extended Wear Disposables are made with a new material and can be worn for up to 30 nights and days. The new lenses provide the highest level of oxygen transmissibility (up to six times greater than ordinary lenses). The new silicone material also allows the lens to avoid deposit buildup and reduce dry eye irritation.
Rigid gas permeable (RGP) lenses are more rigid than soft lenses and therefore more durable for an active user. This type of hard contact lens is made with silicone polymers, allowing oxygen to circulate to the cornea of the eye. Older versions of hard lenses could not. RGPs maintain their shape better and offer clearer vision with some types of corrections. They are also extremely durable and easy to take care of. Deposits from tears and outside irritants are not as easily absorbed.
If you are considering an RGP lens, you should know that:
- There is a 10-15 times greater risk of developing corneal ulcers, which may damage your vision.
- Sleeping in extended wear contacts may decrease the flow of oxygen to the cornea.
- Undesirable reshaping of the cornea may occur.
To achieve maximum comfort with RGP lenses, you have to wear them every day.
Colored tints can be added to certain lenses to make them easier to see when handling, enhance or change eye color, and improve contrast for outdoor sports like golf and softball. Contact lenses with novelty effects are available, but should still be handled and cared for like prescription lenses.
The type of vision correction you need, your lifestyle, and the expense will all play roles in your eye care specialist’s recommendations for the type of contact lenses that you should wear.
Who should not wear contacts
Contacts are generally not prescribed for people who:
- Do not have enough tears (dry eye syndrome)
- Are constantly exposed to fumes
- Have a history of viral infection of the cornea
Always wash your hands with warm water and soap before handling your contacts or before touching your eyes. Any residue from lotions, soaps, or chemicals may adhere to the lens, causing pain, irritation, or blurred vision. Dry your hands with a clean towel.
- Wear your contacts as prescribed. Your eye care specialist will recommend a wearing schedule specific to the type of lens you have selected. Only wear your contact lenses for the time recommended.
- Remember that it will take about 10-12 days for your eyes to adjust to either type of contact lens. Not wearing your prescribed contacts will not cause eye disease, but it can cause discomfort, including eyestrain, headaches, or possibly even injury brought on by the lack of safe vision. If wearing prescriptive contact lenses is uncomfortable for you, ask your doctor about trying another brand or other alternatives, like switching from contact lenses to eyeglasses or exploring corrective surgery.
- Clean and store your contact lenses as prescribed. Different types of lenses require special care and certain types of products. Always use the eye care products recommended by your healthcare provider. Some eye products or drops are not safe for contact lens wearers.
- Always store your contact lenses in a clean case in fresh solution, as recommended by your doctor.
- Clean your contact lens case after each use with either sterile solution or boiling water.
- Always use commercial sterile saline solutions for rinsing your contacts or to dissolve enzyme tables. Never use plain water on your contacts, and never put your contacts in your mouth to “rinse” them. Microorganisms can live in even distilled water and can cause infection or damage sight.
- Clean your contact lens by rubbing it gently with your index finger in the palm of your hand. The newest “no rub” solutions allow you to rinse your lenses only.
- If you develop an eye infection (signs include redness, burning, or excessive tearing), remove your contacts and discontinue use until you talk with your eye care specialist. Wearing a contaminated pair of contact lenses will invite the infection to remain. After resuming contact lens use, closely follow your doctor’s instructions to help prevent future eye infections.
- Wearing contact lenses may cause your eyes to become more sensitive to sunlight. Wear sunglasses with total UV protection and/or a wide brim hat when in the sunlight.
- Never wear another person’s contacts, especially if they have been worn before. Using them may be a hazard if they are a different prescription and can also spread any bacteria, infection, or particles from their eyes to yours.
- To keep your eyes lubricated, use a rewetting solution or plain saline solution.
- Do not sleep with your contacts in unless you have been prescribed an “Extended wear” material. While the eyes are closed, tears cannot carry healthy amounts of oxygen to the eye. Your contacts will become dry and “stuck” to your eyes if you sleep with them in. If you accidentally do fall asleep with your contacts in, be sure to put eye drops in your eyes and wait a few minutes before trying to remove your contacts.
- Visit your eye care specialist at least once a year. At an annual visit, your eye care specialist will check your contact lens prescription and your overall eye health. Discuss your family medical history with your eye care specialist to prevent vision problems or eye diseases. Your eye care specialist will want to know about your family’s history of diabetes, glaucoma, cataracts, or macular degeneration. Most diseases that cause vision loss, like glaucoma and diabetes, can be treated or their progression slowed with the proper diagnosis and management.
- Visit your eye care specialist immediately if you have any degree of sudden vision loss, blurred vision, light flashes, eye pain, infection, swelling, unusual redness, or irritation.
For chemical exposure in the eyes:
- Remove your contact lenses immediately. Keeping them in your eyes may hold the chemical against the cornea, causing unnecessary damage and pain.
- If you suspect chemicals have entered the eye, begin flushing them immediately with cool water and continue to do so for approximately 15 minutes.
- Seek immediate medical attention by dialing 999 or going to the nearest emergency room. You will need to know the name of the chemical, or if possible, take its container with you to the emergency room.
For an object in the eyes:
- If you have an object in your eye, do not irritate your eye by rubbing it. You may try to remove the particle if it is not embedded in the eye.
- Do not try to remove an object that is embedded in the eye: seek emergency medical attention by dialing 999, or go to the nearest emergency room or to your eye care specialist.
- First wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. This will prevent further contamination or infection.
- Try flushing the eye. Using your finger and thumb, gently pull the upper eyelid down over the top of the lower eyelid. This should cause tearing and flush the object out. You may need to repeat this procedure several times.
- If tearing does not work, you may try flushing the particle out using cool water for as long as necessary. This can be done in a sink, with an outside hose, or a glass of water that is contaminant-free.
- If you can see the object, you may try to remove it with a washcloth. Gently lift the upper or lower eyelid, and use a clean, wet washcloth to wipe the object away. If this does not work, seek immediate medical attention.
How to give yourself eye drops or ointment
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water. Dry them with a clean towel.
- Use a mirror.
- Look up to the ceiling with both eyes.
- Pull the lower lid of your eye down with one hand. Hold the eye drops bottle in your other hand. (Rest part of your hand on your forehead if necessary to keep it steady.)
- Place a drop inside your lower lid. The tip of the bottle should not touch your eye.
- Close your eyes for a minute after putting in the drop.
- If you are prescribed both eye drops and eye ointment, use the eye drops first.
- If you have more than one eye medicine to put in your eyes, wait about 5 minutes after the first medicine before putting in the second medicine.