What You Need to Know About Choosing Contact Lenses

Contact lenses are a wonderful choice if you’re looking for an attractive, reliable solution for correcting your vision. But before you commit to buying and wearing contacts, make sure you know the different types and how they work. Start by getting a contact lens prescription and then consider factors such as daily, weekly or monthly contacts and hard contact lenses vs. soft contacts. Your contact lens primer starts here.


Sally Wadyka

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An estimated 45 million Americans wear contact lenses. If you’re thinking about becoming one of them, you have some decisions to make. Contact lenses have come a long way in the past few decades, with options including different materials, colors and replacement schedules.


Let’s start with the basics.


What Are Contacts Made Of?

There are two basic types of contact lenses—soft and hard (also called rigid gas permeable or RGP). Both types are made of plastic that allows oxygen to reach your cornea. Soft contact lenses are made of very flexible plastic that mold to the shape of your eye, making them comfortable and easy to wear. Hard contact lenses are made of very stiff plastic and sometimes glass. They are more durable, but it can take more time to adjust to wearing them.


How Do Contact Lenses Work?

Just like the lenses in a pair of glasses, contact lenses help you see better by affecting the direction of light rays entering your eyes. Depending on whether you are nearsighted or farsighted, your contacts will direct light to the correct area of your retina to improve your vision. And because contact lenses sit directly on your eye, they are able to correct your eyesight even though they are much thinner than the lenses in a pair of glasses.


What Are the Different Types of Contact Lenses?

Soft, hard, dailies, monthlies—the options can be confusing. When trying to decide which type to choose, you’ll want to talk to your eyecare provider about what’s best for correcting your vision. You’ll also want to take into consideration your lifestyle, your budget, and how much time you can devote to caring for your contacts.


A few things to keep in mind:

  • Hard contact lenses are durable. If you take care of them—and your prescription doesn’t change—you may be able to wear the same pair for a year or more. This makes them a cost-effective option.

  • Extended wear contacts are soft contact lenses made to wear for multiple days. Some are approved for overnight wear for a week or even a month. But many eyecare providers recommend taking them out at night for cleaning. Either way, be sure to toss them and put in a new pair according to the replacement schedule. Wearing them for longer than recommended can lead to infection or other eye problems.

  • Daily wear contacts are soft lenses you take out and dispose every night. They can be slightly more expensive than extended wear contacts, but they require no maintenance. Instead of cleaning and soaking them, you throw them out at night and pop in a fresh pair every morning. They are also a great option for people who wear glasses most of the time but want contacts they can put in every once in a while.

  • Colored contact lenses or decorative contacts are mostly used for cosmetic reasons, although in some cases tinted lenses help with vision issues like a ruptured iris or pupil irregularities. Most people wear colored contacts to try on a new eye color or as the finishing touch to a Halloween costume. But while they can be fun, the FDA still classifies cosmetic contacts as medical devices that should be prescribed and fitted by an eyecare provider. If you buy them at a costume shop or cosmetic store, you could put your eye health at risk.


Who Can Wear Contacts?

The good news is that almost everyone who wants to wear contacts can find a type, fit and prescription that works for them. Advances in contact lenses mean there are more options designed to correct more vision problems.


In addition to fixing near and farsightedness, contacts can address tricky combinations of the two. For people who are nearsighted but find themselves needing reading glasses as they get older, multifocal contacts are an option. Like old-fashioned bifocal glasses, multifocal lenses can help you see both far away and close up more clearly.


How Do I Get A Contact Lens Prescription?

You will need to see your eyecare provider in person for a contact lens exam and fitting. During the appointment, they will check the overall health of your eyes and determine the right prescription to correct your vision.


Your provider will also need to measure various aspects of your eyes to help find the right contact lens fit. Then, you can try on different pairs until you find the one that fits best, gives you the clearest vision and feels most comfortable.


This initial exam needs to be done in person. But unless you are changing contact brands, had a serious eye injury or have a progressive eye condition, you probably won’t need to get refitted every year. Online prescription renewal makes getting your annual supply of contacts easy to do from home.


The QE Perspective: Contacts are a great option for people with a wide range of vision problems. They can improve eye health, change appearance and give people freedom from glasses. But, as with all medical devices, it’s important to use contacts responsibly, following your provider’s instructions for care, cleaning and replacement. And be sure to renew your prescription every year—which you can do conveniently online at Quadrant Eye—and see your eyecare provider as recommended.

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