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Rigid gas permeable (RGP) lenses are hard contact lenses, which are also known as GP (gas permeable) lenses or oxygen permeable lenses.
The first plastic contact lenses were produced in the 1930s. They consisted of a material called polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA). One drawback of PMMA is that it does not allow much oxygen to pass through the lenses.
Modern RGP lenses incorporate silicone, which allows more oxygen to reach your eyes. These lenses are much healthier for your eyes than older models of hard lenses.
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RGPs are customizable lenses that correct refractive errors, including myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), and astigmatism. They also correct presbyopia (age-related farsightedness).
RGP lenses work by creating a smooth surface over your cornea (clear tissue covering the front of the eye), while your tears fill in the space between the lens and your eye. This surface allows you to see clearly and maintain sharp vision throughout the day. Each time you blink, the lens moves, allowing tears to circulate underneath the lens.
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Other conditions where RGP lenses may be beneficial include:
Although most people wear soft contact lenses, there are benefits to both soft and rigid contact lenses. Your eye doctor can determine which type of contact lens is suitable for you.
Here are some benefits of RGP lenses:
These are some disadvantages of RGP lenses:
Here are some frequently asked questions about rigid gas permeable lenses:
RGP contact lenses cost about $100 per lens, so a yearly supply costs around $200. Some contact lens retailers may offer lower prices. If you have astigmatism or require bifocal/multifocal RGPs, these lenses typically have an added cost.
Keep in mind that most eye doctors charge more to fit you with RGPs than soft contacts. The fee is higher because an RGP fitting usually requires more work and follow-up appointments. Your insurance plan may cover some or all of the costs of the exam and lenses.
RGP contact lenses are safe to use. Some studies have found that RGPs have a lower rate of infection and corneal inflammation versus soft contacts.
As with any contact lenses, you must use and care for them properly to maintain their safety. Here are some general tips for safe RGP use:
- Do not use tap water or saliva to rinse your lenses. Sterile saline is best.
- Only use appropriate cleaning and disinfecting solutions.
- Replace your contact lens case every 1 to 3 months.
- Do not sleep, swim, or bathe in your contact lenses (unless you wear ortho-k lenses, which are specially designed for you to use while sleeping).
- Check for cracks and chips before inserting your lenses. Do not use the RGP if you observe any of these defects, as you may risk scratching your eye.
- If you get dust or other debris in your eye, remove the RGP lens immediately and rinse your eye with sterile saline.
Initially, yes, but the discomfort may only last a few weeks. However, many people find that once they get used to the RGPs, they are just as comfortable as soft contact lenses. The key is to use RGPs consistently, so your eyes adapt to them.
Adjustment to RGPs may take a few weeks, but everyone is different. Some people cannot get used to the sensation and stop using the lenses before they can adjust.
Piggybacking is a method where your doctor fits you with a breathable, soft contact lens underneath the RGP. This makes your RGP wear more tolerable if you have trouble adapting. Another option is a hybrid lens, which has an RGP in the center and a soft “skirt” on the outer portion, which improves comfort.
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Bromley, Jennifer G, and J Bradley Randleman. “Treatment Strategies for Corneal Ectasia.” Current Opinion in Ophthalmology, vol. 21, no. 4, July 2010, pp. 255–258., doi:10.1097/icu.0b013e32833a8bfe.
Petalio, Leandro. “A Complete History of Contact Lenses.” OptometryStudents.com, 7 Sept. 2012, www.optometrystudents.com/a-complete-history-of-contact-lenses/.
Quinn, Thomas G. “GP Versus Soft Lenses: Is One Safer?” Contact Lens Spectrum, 1 Mar. 2012, www.clspectrum.com/issues/2012/march-2012/gp-versus-soft-lenses-is-one-safer.
Sherman, Suzanne, and Nolan Wilson. “Combining Optics and Comfort: Piggyback and Hybrid Lenses.” Review of Cornea and Contact Lenses, 15 Sept. 2017, www.reviewofcontactlenses.com/article/combining-optics-and-comfort-piggyback-and-hybrid-lenses.