What to Know Before You Get Contact Lenses

Are you thinking of trying contact lenses? With all the safe and convenient options available today, almost anyone can wear contacts. Wearing contact lenses can be a great option for some people, especially those who have an active lifestyle. But it may not work for everyone, and some find them cumbersome and enjoy the ease of wearing eyeglasses.

Contact lens balance on the tip of index finger
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What Are Contact Lenses?

Contact lenses are thin pieces of plastic worn directly on the eye to correct certain vision problems. They can be a perfect solution for those who do not want to wear eyeglasses and/or have corrective surgery.

Most people are able to wear contacts. In fact, millions of people wear contacts, especially those who lead active lifestyles and want crisp, clear vision without having to keep a pair of glasses on their face.

The Exam for Contacts

If you're interested in wearing contacts, the first step is to have a contact lens examination by an eye doctor. A contact lens exam is meant specifically to fit you with contacts.

If you're planning on having a contact lens exam, be prepared for a more lengthy exam than you may be used to. This type of exam is thorough and involves several steps.

Steps of Contact Lens Examination

During a contact lens examination, your practitioner will first determine if your eyes are healthy enough to wear contacts. Since contacts actually touch and cover the eyes, your eyes need to be as healthy as possible before you try wearing them.

You will have a vision examination, which will identify the amount of correction you need for each eye.

Your eyes will then be measured. Your eye doctor will get precise measurements so your contacts will fit properly and comfortably in your eyes.

Instructions

If you are new to wearing contacts, your healthcare provider will teach you how to insert and remove the contacts from your eyes. They will help you practice and get used to placing the contact lenses in and taking them out by yourself.

You will then be taught how to properly care for them, including cleaning and storing. When you take care of your contacts at home, use quality lens care products and clean the lenses as often as recommended to remove the buildup of bacteria.

Warnings

Be aware that wearing contact lenses for a long period of time can be dangerous. Over-wearing may cause problems, such as blurry vision, pain, and redness due to a lack of oxygen passing through to the eye. And they can lead to scarring of the cornea and loss of vision.

Types of Contacts

There are two major groups of contacts: soft contacts and rigid gas permeable (RGP) contacts.

Rigid gas permeable contact lenses are made of hard plastic that gives crisp, clear vision and corrects most vision problems. They are durable and last considerably longer than soft contact lenses.

Soft contacts are extremely thin and comfortable to wear. They are made mostly of water and polymers in the silicone and hydrogel family.

Soft contacts are divided into four basic categories:

  • Spherical (regular) contacts lenses
  • Contacts for astigmatism,
  • Contacts for presbyopia
  • Color (cosmetic) contacts

Wear and Replacement Schedules for Contacts

Most contacts are meant for daily wear, and extended wear contacts are worn for up to a week.

Contacts are not meant to be used in the shower or while swimming. There is an organism in water that can cause an acanthamoeba infection and cause loss of vision. Because of this, some practitioners do not recommend extended wear of contact lenses.

Daily Wear

Disposable contact lenses are worn for one day and then discarded. Other soft lenses and some RGP lenses are worn for a day and then removed, cleaned, and disinfected each night.

Scleral contact lenses are becoming more popular and are a good option for those with sensitive eyes, severe dry eye, high amounts of astigmatism, corneal problems, and/or keratoconus.

Soft lenses are usually replaced on a regular basis. RGP lenses may last for years with regular care.

Extended Wear

Extended wear lenses are worn overnight for one week and then replaced. Overnight wear decreases the amount of oxygen available to the eye and increases the chance of infection.

A Word From Verywell

Contact lenses are medical devices that must be taken seriously. Contact lens care requires meticulous cleanliness and adherence to the recommended timing of use. For example, if you have disposable contact lenses, you must replace them on time. And if you aren't supposed to sleep with them, you need to remember not to fall asleep with your contacts still in your eyes. So it's important to be honest with yourself about whether you can keep up with contact lens care as you are deciding whether they are right for you.

If your eyes are healthy and you are ready to manage life with contact lenses, you will see better and you won't have to wear glasses.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The Cleveland Clinic. Contact lenses.

  2. Vision Service Plan. Contact lens exams are not the same as routine eye exams.

Additional Reading
  • Tom Nugent, Staywell Custom Communications. "Don't Skip Your Contact Lens Exam." Dec.2005 VSP.com

By Troy Bedinghaus, OD
Troy L. Bedinghaus, OD, board-certified optometric physician, owns Lakewood Family Eye Care in Florida. He is an active member of the American Optometric Association.