Contact lenses: What to know before you buy
Contact lenses are more versatile than ever before. Understand the pros and cons of common types of contact lenses — and the ground rules for preventing eye infections.
Soft contact lenses
Soft contact lenses are the most commonly prescribed contact lenses. They can be used to correct various vision problems, including:
- Nearsightedness (myopia)
- Farsightedness (hyperopia)
- Blurred vision (astigmatism)
- Age-related loss of close-up vision (presbyopia)
Soft contact lenses are comfortable and easier to adapt to than rigid gas permeable lenses. Soft contact lenses come in various types, such as:
- Daily wear lenses. One-day lenses are made for one-day wear. You remove and dispose of them at night. Other options include two-week disposable lenses, monthly disposable lenses and, for some prescriptions, quarterly disposable lenses. Typically, you remove these lenses each night for cleaning and disinfecting.
- Overnight (extended) wear lenses. Some soft contact lenses can be worn for up to 30 days continuously, including while you sleep. However, this type of lens wear can cause complications, such as the buildup of debris under the lens, corneal problems or serious eye infections.
Rigid gas permeable contact lenses
Rigid gas-permeable lenses provide clear, crisp vision for people with most vision problems. These contact lenses might be helpful if you've tried soft contact lenses and have been unsatisfied with the results or if you have "dry eyes."
Rigid gas permeable contact lenses are more durable than soft contact lenses. They're also more breathable, allowing more oxygen to the cornea. These contact lenses must be removed for cleaning and disinfection at night, but some can be worn for a week or even 30 days.
It might take a few days or up to a few weeks to adjust to rigid gas permeable contact lenses. However, if your prescription doesn't change and you take care of your lenses, you can use the same pair for up to two to three years.
Specialized contact lenses
Depending on your vision needs, you might consider specialized contact lenses, such as:
- Hybrid contact lenses. Hybrid contact lenses have a rigid gas permeable center surrounded by a soft outer ring. They can correct nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism and age-related loss of close-up vision, as well as an irregular corneal curvature (keratoconus). They also might be more comfortable to wear than traditional gas permeable lenses.
- Multifocal contact lenses. These lenses are available in various materials and can correct nearsightedness, farsightedness and presbyopia at the same time.
- Tinted contact lenses. Contact lenses can be tinted for cosmetic or therapeutic purposes. Tinting can enhance color perception and compensate for colorblindness, for example.
- Scleral contact lenses. These rigid gas-permeable lenses are larger than most, extending to the white outer layer of the eyeball (sclera). They can help correct vision if you have an irregular or distorted cornea.
- Orthokeratology. These special rigid gas-permeable lenses are worn while you sleep to temporarily change the curve of your cornea. This creates clear vision while you're awake.
- Contact lens coatings. This treatment makes the surface of the lens slippery and more resistant to bacteria sticking to it. The coating can be applied to soft and rigid gas permeable contact lenses.
Getting the right fit
Before getting contact lenses, see your eye doctor for a thorough eye exam and fitting. You might need a follow-up exam after one week, one month and six months, and then once every year or two years.
Wearing contact lenses can cause problems ranging from discomfort to severe infections. To prevent problems:
- Practice good hygiene. Before handling contacts, wash your hands with soap and water, rinse and dry them with a lint-free towel.
- Minimize contact with water and saliva. Remove your contact lenses before you swim or use a hot tub. Don't put your lenses in your mouth to wet them.
- Take care with contact lens solutions. Use only commercially prepared, sterile products designed for the type of contact lenses you wear. Discard the solution in the contact lens case each time you disinfect and store your lenses. Gently rub and rinse your lenses as directed by your doctor. Don't use contact solution that's past the expiration date.
- Replace contact lenses and cases as recommended. Follow manufacturer guidelines for replacing your contact lenses. Clean and rinse your case with sterile contact lens solution each time you finish using it. Don't use tap water. Consider flipping over the case while it's air-drying to drain any solution. Replace your case every three months.
- Avoid over-the-counter contact lenses. These lenses can cause eye injuries and infections. If you're interested in decorative contact lenses, talk to your eye doctor.
Even with proper use and care, dry eyes can be an issue for contact lens wearers. If your eyes are itchy or red, remove your contact lenses and use lubricating eyedrops.
If your vision becomes blurry or you experience eye pain or extreme sensitivity to light, see your eye doctor for prompt treatment.