Contact lenses are more versatile than ever before. Start by understanding 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:
Blurred vision (astigmatism)
Age-related loss of close-up vision (presbyopia)
Soft contact lenses conform to the shape of your eye. They're comfortable and tend to stay in place well, so they're a good choice if you participate in sports or lead an active lifestyle.
Soft contact lenses come in various types, such as:
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.
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 still important to be cautious with overnight use, though, since it increases the risk of eye infections — even if the lenses have been approved for extended wear.
Disposable soft contact lenses are generally the most expensive option. You wear the lenses during the day and remove them at night. They don't need to be cleaned or disinfected. You simply use them for the recommended timeframe — such as daily, weekly or monthly — and then 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.
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.
It might take up to a week to adjust to hard contact lenses, and they're more likely to slip off the center of your eye than are soft contact lenses — which might lead to discomfort and blurred vision.
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 might be an option if you have an irregular corneal curvature (keratoconus) or 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 — to enhance color perception or help compensate for color blindness, for example. Avoid costume or decorative contact lenses, though. These lenses can damage your eyes and cause potentially serious eye infections.
Getting the right fit
If you decide you want to try 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.