Contact lenses are thin lenses that sit on top of the cornea. They correct refractive errors and make your vision clearer. Most of the 45 million Americans who wear contact lenses use them simply to replace glasses. Some eye conditions (keratoconus, irregular astigmatism, high myopia, high hyperopia) require contact lenses to adequately improve the vision. In some cases (recurrent erosions, severe dry eyes) contact lenses can be therapeutic. The FDA has recently approved contact lenses to reduce the progression of myopia in children.
How Do I Get Contact Lenses?
Contact lenses are medical devices that need to fit properly to prevent permanent damage to your eyes.
- The first step is to have a comprehensive eye examination with dilation and refraction. Discuss with your doctor if contact lens wear is appropriate for you.
- The next step is a Contact Lens Fitting. You and your doctor will discuss your eye health, you visual needs and lifestyle. You doctor will measure the size and shape of your cornea and use this information, along with your refraction, to determine the design of contact lens that will best accomplish your goals.
- Next, you will be instructed in the proper care, wear, insertion and removal of the contact lenses. After you have demonstrated your ability to insert and remove the lenses. You will be sent home with a trial pair of lenses.
- In about a week, you will follow up with the doctor to ensure that your eyes are tolerating the lenses and you are functioning as desired. At this point, a prescription for the lenses can be issued.
- The final step is to continue yearly follow-up examinations to ensure the continued health of your eyes.
Benefits of Contact Lenses
Some people prefer to wear contacts instead of eyeglasses.
Contacts stay in place and improve peripheral vision, so they can be easier to wear when being active or playing sports. They don’t fog up the way glasses do, so they may also be more convenient for people who work or spend a lot of time outdoors in cold weather.
If you wear contacts, you can wear non-prescription sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV rays. You can also wear contacts with UV protection built into the lenses.
Risks of Contact Lenses
Contact lenses are not risk-free. If you don’t use them the right way, you can get infections and permanently damage your cornea.
You can lower your risk by:
Disinfecting and storing your contacts correctly — every time
Only wearing your contacts for the amount of time your doctor recommends
Taking out your contacts before you shower, swim, or go in a bath or hot tub
The best way to prevent complications is to take good care of your contacts.
When to get help
Take out your contacts if you have any of these symptoms:
Light sensitivity (when light hurts your eyes)
Sudden blurry vision
Unusually watery eyes
Discharge (unusual fluid leaking out of your eyes)
If the symptoms don’t go away or they get worse, call your eye doctor.
Types of Contact Lenses
Soft Contact Lenses
Soft contact lenses are much more common than rigid lenses. Because they’re soft and flexible, they can be more comfortable and easier to get used to.
Rigid Contact Lenses
Hard contact lenses can make your vision crisper than soft lenses, and they’re less likely to tear. But they may take longer to get used to, and they can be harder to clean and take care of than soft lenses.
Daily Wear Contact Lenses
You keep daily wear contact lenses in all day and take them out at night. You need to clean and disinfect daily lenses every night. It’s not safe to sleep in daily lenses — it can put you at risk for serious eye infections.
Extended Wear Contact Lenses
You can leave extended wear contact lenses in overnight. Depending on the brand, you can wear them for as long as 30 days and nights before taking them out. Extended wear lenses can be convenient — but they may also make it more likely that you’ll get a serious eye infection.
Single-Use Contact Lenses
You wear single-use contact lenses for one day, then throw them away at night. The next day, you put in a brand new pair. You don’t need to clean or disinfect single-use lenses.
Frequent Replacement Contact Lenses
You take reusable contact lenses out at night, clean them, and wear them again the next day. Depending on the brand, you’ll need to replace them with a new pair after 7 to 30 days.
Multifocal contact lenses
Multifocal contact lenses correct both near and distance vision. They can help people who have trouble seeing things up close and far away. For example, people who have both presbyopia and nearsightedness can use multifocal contact lenses for reading and driving.
Hybrid contact lenses
Hybrid lenses have a hard center and a soft outer ring. The hard center corrects refractive errors to make your vision clearer, and the soft outer ring holds the lens in place and makes it more comfortable to wear. Hybrid lenses may work better for people who can’t wear regular lenses because their corneas are an unusual shape (irregular corneas).
Scleral contact lenses
Scleral lenses are hard contact lenses that sit on the sclera (the white part of the eye) instead of the cornea. The space between the scleral lens and the cornea can hold fluid to help heal damaged corneas and treat severe dry eye.
Talk with your eye doctor about what type of contact lenses are right for you. No matter what type of contact lenses you wear, it’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions for taking care of your lenses.
Care of Contact Lens
Most people use multipurpose contact lens solution to clean, disinfect, and store their contact lenses. Follow these steps to keep your contacts — and your eyes — clean and safe:
- Every time you take out your lenses:
- Rub and rinse them with contact lens solution
- Store them in fresh solution in your contact lens storage case
- Every time you put your lenses in your eyes:
- Rub and rinse the case with fresh solution
- Dump out the solution and dry the case with a clean tissue
- Store the case upside down on a clean tissue — leave the case open with the caps off
- Some people use different systems to take care of their contacts.
- Talk to your eye doctor about which lens care system is right for you.
Tips For Taking Care Of Contacts
- Wash and dry your hands before you touch your contacts
- Always use contact lens solution to clean, rinse, and store contacts
- Never use water or saliva to wet your lenses
- Never “top off” solution in your lens case — use fresh solution each time
- Replace your lens case at least once every 3 months