One of the most useful inventions of the 20th century has been the contact lens. Millions of people’s lives are improved each day by the independence and lifestyle benefits they bring.
Contact lenses have a long history that was first thought of by Leonardo Di Vinci around 1508! More about the history can be found here.
Glasses frames come in a beautiful array of colours and styles today that make them far more attractive than they used to be. But, there are times when wearing glasses interferes with your lifestyle. Whether it is travel, sports, or being around young children, sometimes glasses just don’t work for us and contact lenses can be a real boon.
Whether you are looking for Acuvue, Air Optix or daily disposables you have come to the right place. What is critical to understand is that most of the products that are mentioned are a one size fits all. If you are struggling after having a number of different designs trialled, it can be because of many reasons.
Maybe it is time to see a contact lens specialist.
Contact lenses are convenient, safe and provide freedom from glasses of all sorts.
However, up to 50% of wearers fail in the first year – and over half of those are due to contact lens discomfort. Find out how you can avoid becoming part of this alarming statistic.
Why did Contact Lenses not work for me in the past?
With about half of all contact lens wearers failing in the first year (and 70% within 10 years), it is common for people to assume they just can’t wear them. But even if you have previously failed in contact lenses, the fact is that most people CAN wear them, provide they are fitted by a contact lens specialist.
The high failure rate is often linked to the commoditisation, or one-size-fits-all approach of disposable lenses. They are deservedly popular and can be great when they work… but the fact is that half the time they don’t. This is where all the other types of contact lenses come in. It is also where an experienced optometrist can make all the difference.
Contact lens cleaning solutions can also be the culprit when it comes to poor success. Toxicity to the preservatives in the solutions builds up over time and can cause discomfort and ultimately the inability to wear contact lenses. So which is the best contact lens solution? Where possible the best is NO contact lens cleaning solution. By using daily disposables that are replaced every day there is not issue. If some type of contact lens disinfection system is required then we nearly always recommend a hydrogen peroxide contact lens solution. This has the advantage of superior hygiene and when it is neutralise, it becomes unpreserved saline. This means no toxicity or irritation to the eye surface.
Poor compliance is a third reason for failing in contact lenses. Not everyone can wear their lenses all day every day, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a successful wearing schedule for you.
Dr Jim Kokkinakis has written a brief summary of the top 5 reasons why contact lenses fail on Linked In.
Are Contact Lenses safe?
When fitted correctly, monitored regularly and worn according to your practitioner’s directions, contact lenses can be almost as safe as glasses, but unfortunately, these things don’t happen most of the time. Poor compliance (not sticking to recommended wearing and cleaning schedules) is a major reason for complications to occur.
We need to remember to not take these medical devices lightly. We are placing them on our eye, which delivers our most precious sense, our vision.
Most contact lens failure is due to discomfort, but there are other risks associated with contact lenses. Some contact lenses are marketed as ‘extended wear’, which means they have been approved in suitable patients for overnight wear for up to 30 days.
Unfortunately, extended wear lenses are 20-30 times more likely to result in severe reactions including infection, inflammation and scarring. The eye is an almost sterile environment.
Leaving a lens in overnight is like sleeping in the same underwear for a month. Do you really need to see your dreams any clearer?
These lenses are best reserved for occasional overnight wear where work or professional sport necessitates it.
Assuming you are suitable, you should be changing your lenses daily. It is just common sense and good hygiene.
Types of contact lenses
With the multitude of designs on offer, it is little wonder that people get overwhelmed. Read on for an explanation of the various types:
Are disposable contact lenses the best choice?
There are many different types of contact lenses to choose from. Even within the ever-popular disposable designs, there are all sorts of variations – daily, fortnightly or monthly disposables, torics (for astigmatism), multifocals etc.
Comfort and simplicity of use can make us complacent about the fact that we are wearing something on our most precious organs – our eyes.More information about disposable lenses
Multifocal contact lenses for reading
Presbyopia strikes everyone once they get to their mid-forties or so. Lights aren’t bright enough, nor arms long enough to read small print anymore. Reading glasses and multifocals restore clear vision but bring their own set of problems. Until recently, multifocal contact lenses had a low success rate but modern advances in design have resulted in effective multifocal contact lenses with much higher success rates.More information about multifocal contact lenses
Toric contact lenses for astigmatism
Astigmatism is present in most eyes to a small degree. It is simply when the two curves of your cornea (front surface of your eye) are not the same, resulting in a slightly egg-shaped front surface. This isn’t visible to someone looking at your eyes, but it can distort your vision if there is more than a small difference in curvature. Astigmatism is easily corrected with glasses – not so easily with contact lenses (called torics), which can cause inconsistent vision. An experienced practitioner will have a range of options for correcting astigmatism.More information about toric contact lenses
RGP (Gas permeable) contact lenses
RGP stands for Rigid Gas Permeable. This means the lenses are hard (rigid) and breathable (oxygen transfers easily across the lens material). They are usually more difficult to fit successfully than soft lenses as they have to be tailored to the individual eye (unlike many soft lenses which can fit a range of eye shapes). RGPs, when fitted properly, provide very clear vision (even on irregular corneas) and provide the necessary oxygen to the eye to allow for long wearing times. What's not to like? The reason that RGPs are not more popular than their soft, disposable cousins is that they require some getting used to when you first get them.
Another use of RGP lenses is piggy-backing. Piggy back contact lenses consist of a smaller RGP lens sitting right on top on a larger soft lens. This provides the best of both worlds – the comfort of soft and the vision of the hard lens. This is often a less expensive option than a hybrid lens. The soft lens is usually a thin disposable lens in a very breathable material.More information about RGPs
Hybrid contact lenses
Sometimes you need the sharp vision that RGPs provide but the comfort of soft lenses. This is where hybrid lenses come in. They have a hard central zone, made from RGP material, with a soft outer skirt. This can greatly improve your tolerance of a lens on your eye. The soft skirt stabilises the lens and makes it feel more like a soft lens in the eye. These lenses are most often used in the treatment of keratoconus, but are also used on very sensitive eyes where contact lenses are required.More information on hybrid lenses
Scleral contact lenses for dry eyes
Dry eyes can be an obstacle when it comes to successful contact lens wear. Soft disposable lenses can dehydrate your eyes even more and may not be tolerated, especially in office environments. However, recent advances in technology have resulted in some very comfortable contact lens materials that are well tolerated even by people with drier eyes. Interestingly, a special type of contact lens called a scleral lens, is one of the best treatments for severe dry eyes. These lenses are made from a hard material and vault the sensitive front surface of your eye. They act as a physical barrier to protect the eye and prevent evaporation of your tears.More information on scleral lenses
Custom contact lenses for the difficult eye
If you think you’ve tried them all and practically given up on contact lenses, custom-made lenses may be the solution for you. While disposables often take a one-size-fits-all approach (when is that ever true?) these lenses are tailored to your individual eyes, no matter how unusual they are. Tailoring the right lens for each individual is a job for a contact lens specialist. Especially if you have had trouble with contact lenses in the past, getting the right lens for your eye is essential to success.More information on custom lenses
Contact lenses for keratoconus
Keratoconus is a corneal disease that affects about 1 in 2,000 Australians (at least 10,000 people). The mainstay of successful management is contact lenses – provided they are comfortable and fit properly. In fact, poor contact lens fit is one of the causes of progression of this disease. It is essential to find a contact lens practitioner who is experienced in keratoconus and fits patients every week. This helps to keep you out of needing a corneal transplant for longer – preferably for good. Contact lenses for keratoconus include soft custom lenses, RGP contact lenses, sclerals and hybrid contact lenses. For more on contact lenses for keratoconus, click here.
If you do end up needing a corneal graft, it is not unusual to need a special kind of contact lens afterwards, to provide functional vision.
These lenses are tricky to fit and best left to the experts.More information about contact lenses after a corneal transplant
Can orthokeratology contact lenses prevent myopia?
If your child is short-sighted, contact lenses may actually halt the progression of their myopia. Orthokeratology (or ortho-k) is a system of wearing hard contact lenses during sleep to reshape the surface of the cornea and correct mild to moderate amounts of myopia (or shortsightedness). Over the past few years, newer lens designs have greatly increased the success-rate of ortho-k.More information on orthokeratology lenses
I’m interested in wearing contacts, but not sure if I can…
The next step is a consultation with an eye practitioner who specialises in contact lenses. Anyone can fit you with disposables and send you off with a 6 month supply of lenses, but your chances of failure are 50% in the first year. Finding the right practitioner can greatly increase your chance of success in these remarkable little devices.