Contact Lenses: Choosing the Right Type

Wendy Kagan
July 27, 2017

Need vision correction, but don’t want to wear glasses? If you’re thinking about contact lenses, you’re not alone. Many people choose contacts over glasses to improve their vision without altering their line of sight, affecting their appearance, or interfering with sports and other physical activities. According to the CDC, over 40.9 million Americans now wear contact lenses, with women making up two-thirds of contact lens wearers.

We’ve rounded up what you need to know about contact lenses, including a brief history and an overview of the different types of contact lenses, wearing schedules, replacement schedules, and contact lens designs.

Contact Lens Types
The first contact lenses debuted between 1938-1940, and were hard lenses made from plastic. In 1971, soft contact lenses were introduced in the U.S., and 80% of contact wearers now wear soft lenses.

These two categories are still available today: soft lenses made from water-containing plastic and hard lenses such as rigid gas permeable (RGP) contact lenses, as well as hybrid versions.

Soft Contact Lenses
Soft contact lenses are made from water absorbing plastic called hydrogels, with the water content ranging from 40 percent to 70 percent. The lenses are thin and conform to the surface of the eye, making them more immediately comfortable than those made from less malleable materials. Introduced in 2002, silicon hydrogel lenses are an advanced soft contact lens that allows even more oxygen to reach the eye. In the U.S., they are currently the most prescribed contact lenses.


Gas Permeable Contact Lenses
Introduced in 1979, gas permeable contact lenses are made of durable plastic. Although they look and feel rigid, these contact lenses—known as GP or RGP— are porous and allow oxygen to pass through them. This oxygen permeability enables the RGP lenses to be more closely fitted to the eye, increasing comfort levels.

PMMA Lenses
Considered the “first” contact lenses, these hard contact lenses were initially made from glass until polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) was created (i.e., Plexiglas, Lucite, Perspex). However, they are rarely prescribed as they are less comfortable than other lens materials since they do not allow oxygen flow to the eye.

Contact Lens Wearing Schedule
The first contact lenses required removal and cleaning at the end of the day. Extended wear contacts came on the scene in 1979, enabling wearers to sleep in contact lenses. Today, you will see contact lenses classified by their wearing schedule, either daily wear or extended wear.

Daily contact lenses can be worn during the day for up to 18 hours, but require nightly removal (i.e., no sleeping in them). Extended wear contacts can be worn throughout the day and while sleeping.

Contact Lens Replacement Schedule
Contact lenses are also categorized by the frequency with which they should be discarded. Always adhere to the replacement schedule recommendations to prevent lens deposits and reduce the risk of eye infection.

Soft contact lenses are offered in a variety of replacement schedules. Daily disposable lenses are meant to be discarded after one day of use. Disposable lenses are offered in versions that can be discarded either every two weeks or on a monthly schedule.

Gas permeable contact lenses are not as susceptible to buildup on the lens, and do not need to be replaced as frequently as soft lenses. GP lenses typically can be used for six months to a year, but due to improvements in disposable lenses, they are not frequently prescribed.

Contact Lens Designs
In addition to lens materials, wearing and replacement schedules, contact lenses can also be differentiated by different designs that treat specific vision issues.

Spherical contact lenses are rounded lenses that treat nearsightedness (myopia) or farsightedness (hyperopia), and are indicated on your prescription with a minus or a plus.

Bifocal and multifocal contact lenses provide corrective refraction with the use of multiple prescriptions in the same lens to aid age-related vision decline known as presbyopia.

Toric contact lenses are cylindrical lenses that can correct astigmatism by using gravity and eyelid interaction to rotate the lens to the right angle to correct vision.

Monovision contacts are prescribed to help one eye see far away and the other eye see close up for patients with presbyopia. Over time, your very clever brain will adjust to provide a balanced line of vision.

Color Variation
Want to turn your brown eyes blue? Those who want to experiment with enhanced or different colored eyes now have options with the introduction of colored contacts. Three types of colored lenses are currently available: opaque contacts, enhancers, and visibility tinted lenses.

Whether used for simple cosmetic purposes, a combination of cosmetic and refractive needs, or to make lenses easier to find, just remember that in the U.S. these lenses still need to be prescribed by a doctor as all contact lenses are classified as medical devices by the FDA.

Opaque Contacts
As their name implies, opaque contacts completely cover the natural color of the eye. The lens itself is painted around the iris and features a clear center to make those brown eyes blue or green or whatever color you prefer.

If you want to play up, but not completely obscure your natural color, then enhancers are for you. Also called medium tints, these lenses are designed to be worn by those with pale eyes to enhance your natural color. Those with dark eyes need not apply, as they won’t have any effect on your gorgeous dark peepers.

Visibility Tinted Lenses
Always losing your contacts because you can’t see them? Visibility tinted lenses have a slight color tint added to the lens to make it more visible when it falls out or is dropped on the floor. This tinting does not affect the natural color of your eye—it only lessens the time you may spend scrambling for your lenses.

What Type of Contact Lenses Are Best For You?
If you want to explore the idea of contact lenses, make an appointment to see your eye care professional. After an eye exam and evaluation for contact lens suitability, your eye care professional can write a prescription for contact lenses, ensuring they treat the vision problem that has led you to seek contacts, fit properly, and are aligned with your lifestyle.

Check out cohensfashionoptical.com for a list of stores near you, or visit the location at 825 Broadway to discuss the best contact lens options for you.