What are contact lenses?

Contact lenses are slim, clear plastic disks you wear in your eye to better your vision. Contacts lay on top of the tear film that covers your cornea (the clear, curved surface of your eye).

Like eyeglasses, contact lenses fix vision issues caused by refractive errors. A refractive error is when the eye does not refract (bend) light appropriately into the eye. Contacts can correct vision for people with these refractive errors:

  • myopia (nearsightedness)
  • hyperopia (farsightedness)
  • astigmatism (distorted vision)
  • presbyopia (changes to vision that usually occur due to aging)

Types of contact lenses

Contacts are made from many kinds of plastic. The two most common kinds of contact lenses are hard and soft.

Hard contact lenses. The most usual types of hard contact lens is a rigid gas-permeable (RGP) lens. Rigid gas-permeable lenses are usually made up of plastic and other materials. They hold their form firmly, yet they let oxygen pass through the lens to your eye.

RGP lenses are particularly useful for people with astigmatism and a condition called keratoconus. This is because they offer stronger vision than soft lenses when the cornea is irregularly curved. People who have allergies or are prone to getting protein deposits on their contacts may also prefer RGP lenses.

Soft contact lenses. The majority of people choose to wear soft contact lenses. This is because they have a tendency of being more comfortable and there are many types to choose from. Here are some types of soft lenses.

  • Daily wear contacts. You wear these when you are awake and take them out when you go to sleep. Many are disposable, meaning you throw them out and then wear a new pair of contacts each day. Or you might pick contacts that last longer and only need to be replaced once a week or every month. Some ophthalmologists recommend disposable daily wear contacts every once in a while.

Soft contact lens

  • Extended wear contacts. You can wear these when you go to sleep, but they need to be removed and cleaned at least once a week. Not many eye doctors recommend these types of contacts because they increase the likelihood of getting a harmful eye infection.
  • Toric contacts. These can fix vision for those with astigmatism, though not as well as hard contact lenses. Toric lenses can be for daily use or extended wear. But they are often more costly than other types of soft contact lenses.
  • Colored (tinted) contacts. Vision-correcting contact lenses can be tinted to change the color of your eyes. You can get contact that are either daily wear, extended wear, or toric lenses.
  • Decorative (cosmetic) contacts. These lenses change the appearance of your eye but do not fix vision. There are colored contacts and lenses that can make your eyes look like a vampires, animals or other characters. Even though they do not fix vision, you need a prescription for decorative contacts. To avoid getting harmful eye infections, these lenses must be treated like prescription contacts. This means cleaning them on a regular basis and thoroughly as directed.

Soft contact lens. Most people choose to wear soft contact lenses. This is because they tend to be more comfortable and there are many options. Here are some kinds of soft lenses.

Other types of contact lenses

Contacts for presbyopia. These are designed to fix the normal vision problems people get after age 40, when it becomes harder to see nearby objects clearly. There are different options to choose from for these corrective lenses.

These options include: bifocal or multifocal contact lenses, and monovision correction, where one eye wears a closeup vision lens and the other eye wears a further away vision lens.

Bandage lenses. These contacts do not have a prescription in them. Instead, they cover the surface of your cornea for comfort after an accident or surgery.

Decorative contact lenses can lead to harmful eye problems.

Your eyes are very crucial—and very delicate. Make sure your contact lenses are backed up medically and FDA-approved.

Contacts should not be used as fashion accessories or cosmetics. They are medical devices that require a prescription from an eye doctor.

Non-prescription colored contacts can cause scrapes, open sores and possibly blinding infections in your eyes. In addition to suffering from serious pain, you may need surgery (such as corneal transplants). In some cases, you could go blind.

Want decorative contact lenses? Ask an eye doctor.

Contact lens risks

You can get a serious eye infection if you do not properly clean and disinfect your contact lenses exactly as directed.

Contact lenses that are old or that do not fit well can damage your eye. They can also cause blood vessels to grow into your cornea, a dangerous condition that can cause loss of vision.

Eye drops can bring up problems with your contact lenses. It is best to avoid using any type of eye drops when wearing contacts. Nevertheless, you can use wetting drops as recommended by your eye doctor.

Take out your contact lenses and call your eye doctor as soon as possible if your eyes are very red, painful, watery or sensitive to light. Do the same thing if you are having blurry vision or notice discharge (ooze or pus) coming out of your eye. These can be symptoms of serious eye problems.

Take real good care of your contacts

You must clean and disinfect any contact lens you remove from your eye before you put the lens back into your eye. There are many kinds of cleansing systems. The choice depends on the type of lens you have, if you have allergies or if your eyes are more prone to forming protein deposits. Ask your eye doctor what kind of cleaning solutions are best for you.

Take special care to clean and store your lenses correctly to stay away from harm eye infections. Here is what you should do.

  • Follow the amount of time your eye doctor tells you to wear and replace your lenses. You should not wear daily wear lenses when you go to sleep.
  • Remove contact lenses before showering, going in a hot tub, swimming, or doing anything where water can get into your eyes.
  • Before touching your contact lenses, clean your hands with soap and water and dry them with a lint-free towel.
  • Never place your contacts in your mouth to wet them. Saliva (spit) is not a sterile solution.
  • Do not clean or store contacts in water (tap or sterile water). Also, never use a homemade saline solution.
  • Do not use saline solution or rewetting drops to clean your lenses. They are not disinfectants.
  • Follow directions from your eye doctor and from the lens cleaning solution directions to clean and store your lenses.
  • No matter what kind of lens cleaning solution you have, use a “rub and rinse” cleaning technique. Rub your contact lenses with well-washed fingers, then rinse the lenses with solution before soaking them. Use this technique even if the solution you are using is a “no-rub” type.
  • Use new solution every time you clean and disinfect your contact lenses. Never reuse or “top off” with old solution. Also, do not place the contact lens solution into a different bottle. The solution will no longer be sterile.
  • Make sure the top of the solution bottle does not touch any surface. Keep the bottle tightly shut when you are not using it.
  • Rinse your contact lens case with fresh contact lens solution (not tap water). Then leave the contact case unshut to air dry.
  • Keep your contact lens case clean. Replace the case at a minimum of 3 months, or right away if it gets cracked or damaged.
  • If you store your contact lenses in the case for a while, check the contact lens instructions or the lens solution directions to see if you should re-disinfect them before wearing them. Do not put your contact lenses in if they have been stored for 30 days or longer without re-disinfecting.
  • Contact lenses can become distorted over time, and your cornea can change shape. To make sure your lenses fit correctly and the prescription is right for you, see your eye doctor on a regular basis.

Are contacts right for you?

Many people choose to wear contact lenses. However, they do not work well for everyone. You might not be able to use them for the following reasons:

  • You get frequent eye infections.
  • You have serious allergies or dry eyes that are hard to treat.
  • You work or live where it is extremely dusty.
  • You are not able to correctly care for your contact lenses.

To safely wear contact lenses, you must be sincere to caring for them correctly and replacing them when your suppose to. Speak with your ophthalmologist to go over your vision needs and expectations. They can help you decide if contacts are the right choice for you.

Summary

Many people choose to wear contact lenses rather than eyeglasses, to fix vision problems. There are many different kinds of lenses available to help fix refractive issues.

It is crucial to remember that contacts are not fashion accessories or cosmetics. They are medical devices that require a prescription from an eye doctor. If contacts are good for you, you must clean and care for these lenses exactly as directed. This is critical to preventing eye infection.

If you have any concerns about your eyes or your vision, speak with your ophthalmologist. He or she is committed to protecting your vision.

Peoples’ corneas and tear films must be healthy for them to feel comfortable and see clearly with contact lenses.