Contact lenses: What to know before you buy
Medically reviewed on October 23, 2017.
Contact lenses are more versatile than ever before. Understand the pros and cons of common types of contact lenses — and the ground rules for preventing eye infections.
Soft contact lenses
Soft contact lenses are the most popular type of contact lens both in the United States and worldwide. Soft contact lenses can be used to correct various vision problems, including:
- Nearsightedness (myopia)
- Farsightedness (hyperopia)
- Blurred vision (astigmatism)
- Age-related loss of close-up vision (presbyopia)
- Corneal irregularities
Soft contact lenses are comfortable and easier to adapt to than rigid lenses. Soft contact lenses come in various types, such as:
- Daily wear lenses. Daily wear soft contact lenses are typically the least expensive option. You wear the lenses during the day, and remove them each night to be cleaned and disinfected. How long you can use a single pair of daily wear lenses varies depending on the manufacturer.
- Extended wear lenses. You can wear extended wear soft contact lenses while you sleep, but they must be removed for cleaning and disinfecting at least once a week. It's important to be cautious with overnight use, though, since it increases the risk of eye infections.
- Disposable lenses. These lenses are typically more expensive. You wear the lenses during the day and remove them at night. They don't need to be cleaned or disinfected. You use them for the recommended time frame — such as daily, weekly or monthly — and discard them. You might consider disposable lenses if you wear contacts only occasionally, you can't tolerate disinfecting solution or you place a premium on convenience.
Hard contact lenses
Rigid, gas-permeable lenses, or hard contact lenses, provide clear, crisp vision for most vision problems. Hard contact lenses might be especially appealing if you've tried soft contact lenses and been unsatisfied with the results or if you have "dry eyes."
Hard contact lenses are often more breathable than are soft contact lenses, which reduces the risk of eye infections. Most hard contact lenses must be removed for cleaning and disinfection at night, but some can be worn for a week or even 30 days.
It might take anywhere from a few days up to a few weeks to adjust to hard contact lenses. However, if your prescription doesn't change and you take care of your hard contact lenses, you can use the same pair of lenses for up to two to three years.
Specialized contact lenses
Depending on your vision needs, you might consider specialized contact lenses, such as:
- Hybrid contact lenses. Hybrid contact lenses feature a hard, gas-permeable center surrounded by a soft outer ring. Hybrid contact lenses can correct nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism and age-related loss of close-up vision, as well as an irregular corneal curvature (keratoconus). You might consider hybrid contact lenses if you have trouble wearing traditional hard lenses.
- Bifocal or multifocal contact lenses. These lenses, which are available in both soft and hard varieties, can correct nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism in combination with age-related loss of close-up vision (presbyopia).
- Tinted contact lenses. Some contact lenses are tinted, either for cosmetic or therapeutic purposes. Tinting can enhance contrast or color perception and help compensate for colorblindness, for example. Avoid over-the-counter contact lenses, though. These lenses can cause eye injuries and infections.
Getting the right fit
Before getting contact lenses, consult your ophthalmologist or other eye care specialist for a thorough eye exam and fitting. Schedule follow-up exams as recommended by your eye care specialist. You might need a follow-up exam after one week, one month and six months, and then once a year.
Wearing contact lenses can cause problems ranging from discomfort to severe infections. To prevent problems with your contact lenses:
- Practice good hygiene. Use clean hands when handling your contacts. Wash your hands with soap and water, rinse and dry them with a lint-free towel.
- Remove your contacts before you go to sleep. This applies to extended wear contacts, too. Although extended wear contacts are designed to be worn overnight, continuous wear increases the risk of eye infections.
- Minimize contact with water and saliva. Remove your contact lenses before you swim or use a hot tub. Don't put your lenses in your mouth to wet them.
- Take care with contact lens solutions. Use only commercially prepared, sterile products designed for the type of contact lenses you wear. Discard the solution in the contact lens case each time you disinfect the lenses, and don't "top off" old solution that's already in the case. Gently rub and rinse your lenses as directed by your doctor. Don't use contact solution that's past the expiration date.
- Replace contact lenses and cases as recommended. Follow manufacturer guidelines for replacing your contact lenses. Regularly clean your contact lens case by rinsing it with fresh solution and letting it air-dry. Consider flipping over the case while it is air-drying to drain any excess solution. Replace your case every three to six months.
Even with proper use and care, dry eyes can be an issue for contact lens wearers. If your eyes are itchy or red, remove your contact lenses and use lubricating eyedrops.
If your vision becomes blurry or you experience eye pain, sensitivity to light, discharge, swelling or other problems, remove your contact lenses and consult your eye care specialist for prompt treatment.