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There are many types of contact lenses available that correct vision problems (refractive errors). Some options include soft lenses, hard lenses, bifocal lenses, toric lenses, and multifocal lenses. The type of lens you need depends on what kind of refractive error you have. It is essential to consult with your doctor to determine the best option.
Common types of refractive errors include:
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Contact lenses cost anywhere between $150 to $1,500 per year. The cost depends on the patient’s insurance coverage, the brand of contacts, and the type of lenses they choose.
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Soft contact lenses are made of soft, flexible plastics (such as silicone hydrogel). The majority of soft lenses are “disposable,” as defined by the FDA, which means wearers must follow replacement schedules. Doing so decreases the risk of developing eye infections or “contact lens overwear syndrome.” Depending on the type of contact, the lenses are typically replaced daily, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly.
Most people wear soft contact lenses, rather than hard lenses, because they are more comfortable. There are many types of soft contact lenses available. The most common ones include:
Daily wear contacts are only worn for one day. Most people wear daily disposable contacts after they wake up and throw them away before going to sleep. They should never be worn overnight. If you only wear contacts occasionally, daily contact lenses are a great option.
Disposable lenses are replaced weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. Disposable contact wearers also have to soak the lenses in contact solution every night. And, similar to daily disposable contacts, these lenses should never be worn overnight.
Daily disposable lenses can correct basic vision problems, including astigmatism and presbyopia (multifocal vision correction). However, if your prescription is outside of the range for daily disposable contacts, you may only be able to get weekly or monthly disposables.
Extended wear lenses are soft contacts that people wear overnight. Most types of extended wear lenses can be worn for up to six nights (seven days) without removal. However, some can last up to 30 days without removal. Eye doctors recommend resting your eyes for one full night without contact lenses after each scheduled removal.
The oxygen flow of a contact lens depends on the type of material, as opposed to the flexibility of the lens. Extended-wear contacts are typically silicone hydrogel, which is the most breathable soft contact lens material. Modern RGP (rigid gas permeable) lenses are much more breathable than traditional hard lenses. In some cases, they allow just as much oxygen as soft contacts.
Extended wear contacts do not support every lens type. It is essential to get an exam so your eye care provider can determine your tolerance to overnight contacts.
Most rigid lenses, also known as hard contact lenses, are made of gas-permeable materials. The two most well-known types of hard lenses include PMMA (conventional) lenses and RGP lenses.
The main difference between these lenses is that RGP contacts allow oxygen to flow through the cornea. They are also more comfortable than PMMA contacts. PMMA lenses reduce the flow of oxygen to the cornea, leading to eye problems over time.
Rigid gas-permeable (RGP) lenses are a type of hard contact. They are more expensive than convention hard lenses (PMMA). Some RGP lenses can be worn overnight and only need to be replaced every 2 to 3 years. However, most eye doctors do not recommend wearing them for an extended period or during sleep.
RGP contact lenses are especially useful for astigmatism (blurred vision due to an eye curvature imperfection) or keratoconus (a bulging cornea).
Conventional contact lenses, also called PMMA lenses, were the first type of hard lens ever made. They consist of a material called polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA), which is a stiff and plexiglass-type plastic. For many people, the wear time of PMMA lenses is between 8 to 16 hours.
PMMA lenses have excellent optics but do not provide enough oxygen to the eye. For this reason, most people do not use hard lenses and opt for soft lenses instead.
In some cases, eye care professionals may recommend customized lenses, depending on the patient’s eye shape and prescription. Other, less common, types of contact lenses include:
Bifocal contact lenses have two different prescriptions in the same lens. They work similarly to bifocal glasses. One prescription is for normal, distance vision, and the other is for close-up reading. These types of contacts have been around for many years, but have been rising in popularity recently.
Presbyopia, also called age-related farsightedness, reduces the ability to focus up close as you get older. Eye doctors may recommend multifocal lenses to patients with presbyopia, especially if they do not want to wear two pairs of prescription glasses.
Toric contact lenses are customized lenses that correct astigmatism. Astigmatism is a common refractive error caused by an imperfection in the curvature of the cornea (eye lens).
Bandage contact lenses protect diseased or injured corneas from blinking and rubbing of the eyelids. They allow the corneas to heal and reduce discomfort. Bandage lenses typically consist of soft contact materials.
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Bennett, Edward S., and Vinita Allee Henry. Clinical Manual of Contact Lenses. Wolters Kluwer, 2020.
Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “Types of Contact Lenses.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, www.fda.gov/medical-devices/contact-lenses/types-contact-lenses.
Roth, H.-W. Contact Lens Complications: Etiology, Pathogenesis, Prevention, Therapy. Thieme, 2003.