Thinking About Contact Lenses?

Today, more than 35 million (1 in 10) Americans wear contact lenses. These individuals choose to wear contact lenses because:

  • They believe they look better in contact lenses.
  • Contact lenses provide them with better vision than glasses.
  • Contact lenses don't fall off or break during sports.
  • Contact lenses don't interfere with peripheral vision.
  • Contact lenses don't steam up or become hard to see through in the rain or cold.
  • It is much easier to use optical equipment like cameras or binoculars with contact lenses than with glasses.

There is no question that contact lenses can enhance appearance and provide excellent vision. But contact lenses are medical devices that require care and must be treated with respect. Safe contact lens wear requires a commitment to:

  • Having a qualified professional fit your lenses.
  • Carefully following the lens care instructions you have been given.
  • Wearing lenses according to the schedule you've been given.
  • Replacing your lenses according to the schedule you've been given.
  • Keeping follow-up appointments with your eye care practitioner.
  • Remaining alert for signs of trouble.

If you've never worn contact lenses, you're likely to have many questions about them. Your eye care practitioner is an expert who will be happy to answer those questions.

 

What Vision Disorders Can Contact Lenses Correct?

Contact lenses can fill almost any vision correction need including myopia (main use), hyperopia, astigmatism and presbyopia. Contact lenses used to correct astigmatism and presbyopia are often referred to as "Specialty Contact Lenses." Contact lenses may also be used for certain therapeutic uses such as bandage lenses, or even is some cases for drug delivery. Opaque contact lenses may be used to change eye color or to hide disfigurement of the cornea such as scars.

Who Can Wear Contact Lenses?

Most people who wear glasses can get the same, or even better, vision with contact lenses. Whether you are nearsighted, farsighted, have astigmatism, or need bifocals, there is likely to be a contact lens that can meet your vision requirements. New contact lenses are being developed all the time. So even if you were told that you couldn't wear contact lenses just a few years ago, you may be able to wear them today. For example, people with astigmatism, who in the recent past couldn't wear soft contact lenses, now have lots of options to choose from!

The great majority of people who need vision correction are able to wear contact lenses, but not everybody. Some of the things that might keep you from wearing contact lenses are:

  • Frequent eye infections.
  • Severe allergic reactions.
  • Insufficient tears ("Dry Eye").
  • Exposure to dust or chemical fumes.
  • Poor motivation to wear and care for the lenses.

Your eye care practitioner will examine your eyes before fitting you with contact lenses. If there is a problem, he or she will let you know.

 

What are the different types of contact lenses?

There are two main "types" of contact lenses available today, "Soft Contact Lenses" and "Rigid Contact Lenses" often referred to as "GP Lenses." Soft Lenses are contact lenses that are manufactured from plastic materials that are able to absorb water, also called "hydrogels." They range from low oxygen permeability to high oxygen permeability (silicone hydrogels). Rigid Gas Permeable Lenses (GP Lenses) are contact lenses that are manufactured from plastic materials that have a high oxygen permeability and do not contain water. Within each of these different "types" of contact lenses are numerous different materials and designs. The many different materials determine the different kinds of wear schedules and replacement schedules that are prescribed while the many different types of designs (combined with the different materials) allow for the different types of vision corrections such as astigmatism and presbyopia.

Can contact lenses be worn overnight?

Some people are able to wear their contact lenses overnight in what is called extended wear. Until recently, extended wear was approved by the FDA for a maximum of six nights in a row. This can only be done with special lenses that are specifically designed for extended wear. Extended wear is something you must discuss with your eye care practitioner before you begin the fitting process. This is essential because some eyes cannot tolerate overnight contact lens wear. It is also important to talk to your eye care practitioner because extended wear increases the risk of serious eye infections. A recent development is that of Continuous Wear Contact Lenses which the FDA has approved, i.e., extended wear for up to 30 days. This has been made possible by the advent of silicon-hydrogel lens materials. These lenses have exceptionally high oxygen permeability.

Some people like the convenience of extended and continuous wear. Others would rather avoid the risk and stick to daily wear-which means that they always take their contact lenses out before going to sleep (or taking a nap). Your eye care professional will tell you whether you are a good candidate for extended wear. A professional will also be happy to explain the safety issues and help you understand the pros and cons of extended wear.

How long will it take me to get used to my contact lenses?

The time required to get used to contact lenses depends primarily on two things: eyes and the type of lenses. Most people get used to soft lenses in just a few hours or a few days. Adjusting to rigid gas permeable lenses (called RGP lenses) will usually take longer-anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Your eye care practitioner will advise you about what to expect. While getting used to your new lenses, you may notice some irritation, tearing, increased blinking, sensitivity to light, and occasional blurry vision. These problems will go away as you get used to lens wear. However, a very small number of people with "sensitive eyes" find it difficult or impossible to adapt to contact lenses.

Where can I get contact lenses?

Since contact lenses are medical devices, your initial pair of lenses must be obtained by a licensed eye care practitioner authorized to dispense contact lenses in your state. Replacement contact lenses may be obtained, with an appropriate prescription, from any source of your choosing.

When choosing contact lenses, the health of your eyes is the most important consideration. You want to select a professional who is thoroughly trained and capable. When your vision is at stake, you want the very best. Your eye care practitioner should be able to evaluate your eyes to determine whether it is safe for you to wear contact lenses. He or she should also be willing to discuss all the issues and explain the options to you. You must feel comfortable enough with your professional that you won't hesitate to call if there's a problem. Think of the relationship with your eye care practitioner as a partnership. Your eye care practitioner will examine your eyes, help you make the right choices, and then fit you carefully. After fitting the lenses, your practitioner will teach you how to handle and care for them and will provide checkups on a regular basis. Then, it's up to you to use your new lenses safely. Before you leave, make sure you know how long to wear your lenses, (daily, extended, or continuous wear), when to replace your lenses with new ones (replacement schedule), how to care for them (lens care instructions and recommended care solutions), and when to come back for your next checkup (ongoing follow-up care). Don't hesitate to call your eye care practitioner if you have questions or a problem.

Conclusion

Remember that most contact lenses require a bit more work to care for than glasses, and there are important safety concerns with contact lenses that cannot be ignored. However, following your eye care practitioner's instructions carefully will go a long way toward assuring that your contact lens wear is safe and happy. Contact lenses provide excellent vision for millions of people. Properly worn and cared for, they can be safe, effective, and fun!