A contact lens is a thin plastic or glass lens that is fitted over the cornea of the eye to correct vision problems such as myopia, hyperopia or astigmatism.
There are two general types of contact lenses--soft and rigid gas permeable hard lenses. They both have unique benefits and some may even come with a colored tint, ultraviolet protection or as bifocals.
Soft lenses are made of a soft plastic and are more comfortable than hard lenses because they hold more water. Many soft contact lenses also provide UV protection. They 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 type of lens prescribed. 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.
While most people choose soft contact lenses because of their benefits, there are also some disadvantages. Soft lenses easily absorb pollutants like lotion or soap from your hands, which can irritate your eyes. They are also more fragile than hard lenses and can rip or tear easily.
The most recent types of soft contact lenses to hit the market include daily disposables and silicone extended wear disposables.
Soft contacts need to be properly disinfected whenever they are worn by soaking them in a disinfecting or multi-purpose solution overnight.
These contacts are only worn once and then thrown away. The benefits of daily disposables include never having to clean your contact lenses, convenient replacement schedule, and reduction of dry eye and irritation related to contact solutions. If you are an allergy sufferer, these are the contacts for you.
Silicone extended wear disposables
These are made with a new material that can be worn for up to 30 nights and days. The new silicone material also prevents deposit build-up and reduces dry eye irritation.
Rigid gas permeable hard lenses
Rigid gas permeable lenses, or hard contact lenses, are more rigid than soft lenses and therefore more durable. Unlike older versions of hard lenses, rigid gas permeable lenses are made with silicone polymers, allowing oxygen to circulate to the cornea of the eye. Compared to soft contact lenses, hard contacts maintain their shape better and offer clearer vision for some types of corrections. They are also extremely durable and easy to take care of. However, if you are considering this type of hard contact lens, you should know that:
- There is a 10-15 times greater risk of developing corneal ulcers, a serious infection, which may damage your vision if not treated.
- Sleeping in any contacts may decrease the flow of oxygen to the cornea and lead to a serious eye infection which can damage your vision.
- Undesirable reshaping of the cornea may occur.
- The amount of time needed to adjust to hard contacts is often repeated after not wearing them for as little as a day. Therefore, in order to achieve maximum comfort, you have to wear the contact lenses every day.
Bifocal contact lenses are designed to give good vision to people who have a presbyopia. These lenses work much like bifocal eyeglasses, having two powers on one lens: one to correct distant vision and another to correct near vision. Bifocal contacts come as both soft and rigid gas permeable lenses.
Toric contact lenses
Toric lenses are special lenses for people with astigmatism. They are made from the same material as other contact lenses and come in soft or rigid gas permeable forms. Like bifocal lenses, toric lenses have two powers, one for astigmatism and another for myopia or hyperopia if either of these conditions is also present.
Colored tints can be added to certain contact lenses that 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.
How do I know which type of contact lens is right for me?
The type of vision correction needed, your lifestyle, and expense will all play a role in your eye care specialist's recommendations for the type of contact lenses that ou should wear.
Who should not wear contacts?
Contacts are generally not prescribed for people who:
- Do not produce enough tears.
- Are constantly exposed to fumes.
- Have a history of viral infection of the cornea.
- Are under age 9.
Where do I get contacts? Can I order them through the mail?
Contacts can be purchased from a variety of places including your eye doctor, a store specializing in optical wear, through mail order, or over the Internet. There is no one ideal place to purchase contacts--it is a matter of individual preferences or need. Before you begin to shop around for contact lenses, be aware that you first must have your contact prescription.
When shopping for contacts, cheaper does not always mean better. Some other things to keep in mind when pricing contacts include:
- Convenience: Is customer service readily available to assist you if need be? Does the company have policies with regard to lenses damaged during shipping?
- Insurance coverage: Be sure to contact your insurance company about coverage of contact lenses. Many plans do not cover specialty lenses, such as colored lenses.
- Availability: Are your lenses in stock? Are you willing to wait longer if necessary for your lenses to arrive?
Regardless of where you get your contacts, it is important to regularly get eye exams so that any changes in your prescription can be noted and that the overall health of your eyes can be maintained.