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A Guide to All the Different Types of Contact Lenses You Can Wear

woman with contact lens on fingertip

Have you ever researched the different types of contact lenses that are available today? Figuring out what they are, who they are for and when to use them can be quite the task. Do you want dailies? Coloured? Toric? Monthly? Multifocal? Gas permeable? The list just goes on and on.

Of course, your eye doctor will help you decide what is best for your eyes, but it’s always good to know the different types of lenses available to you. Here is a basic run down.

Hard Lenses

Hard contact lenses were the first type of contacts available. They are made out of PMMA, or Plexiglass. Prior to the discovery of PMMA, contacts were made from regular hard glass. Very few people still use hard lenses today since they have poor oxygen flow. Additionally, rigid gas permeable lenses are much more comfortable.

Rigid Gas Permeable Lenses (RGP)

Rigid gas permeable lenses are a form of hard contacts. Made from rigid plastic and flexible silicone, these lenses allow more oxygen flow to the eye. RGP contacts are smaller than soft lenses, covering only about 75% of the cornea. They have essentially replaced PMMA contacts.

Disposable Soft Contact Lenses

In the 1960s, a new plastic called hydrogel was invented. Rather than make rigid lenses, this water-absorbing plastic resulted in the first soft lenses. Typically, soft contact lenses cover the entire cornea and some of the sclera. Instead of lasting long periods of time, these soft contacts are disposable. Users wear them anywhere from one day to one month.

Today’s hydrogel contacts contain between 40 to 80% water. The hydrogel in the lenses is either ionic or non-ionic. Non-ionic hydrogel soft contacts tend to attract fewer proteins, which means there’s less chance of buildup.

Here is a short history of disposable contact lenses:

Daily Wear vs Daily Disposable Contact Lenses

stack of daily contact lenses

Some people mistake daily wear for daily disposable contact lenses. Though both are soft contacts, they are very different.

Daily wear contacts are worn every day for up to 18 hours. The wearer cleans, sterilizes and stores the lenses at night.

Daily wear contacts have several different lens replacement schedules. These include:

Conversely, daily disposable contacts last for one use only. The wearer inserts the lenses in the morning and throws them away at the end of the day. There are no cleaning or storage instructions because these contacts are not meant to be worn again.

Extended Wear Disposable Contact Lenses

woman lying in bed sleeping

Extended wear contacts are also soft contact lenses. But, the user wears these contacts all day and all night for a period of time. Some extended wear contacts last up to 30 days while others last only seven days.

But why don’t people just use their daily lenses overnight rather than pay for extended wear lenses? Because of oxygen levels. Daily lenses don’t provide enough oxygen to the eye to allow for 24-hour use.

If you were to wear daily lenses for an extended period of time, you could end up with:

Extended wear contacts are thinner and use silicone hydrogel, which is a more breathable material. This allows enough oxygen to flow through to the eye. Still, you should never wear your extended wear contacts for longer than recommended. If you do, you will have a much higher chance of developing more serious problems, such as keratitis.

Corrective Abilities of Different Types of Contact Lenses

diagram showing impaired vision with astigmatism

For many years, only those with simple, straightforward prescriptions could wear contact lenses. But, with modern technology and materials, even those with complicated prescriptions now have choices. Let’s look at a few:

Coloured Contact Lenses

ten different coloured contact lenses

Most contacts come with coloured options. Here are the three types your eye doctor might recommend:

Final Thoughts

Now that you’re all clued up on the many different types of contact lenses, you can choose the right ones for you. Nonetheless, be sure to see your eye doctor. He or she will give you a thorough exam and provide a prescription for the contact lenses best suited for your eyes and lifestyle.

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