Before making a final decision, here are some points you should consider.
Contacts or Glasses?
People commonly choose to wear contact lenses because they think they look better without glasses. But contacts offer plenty of other benefits as well.
For example, if you're an athlete, you'll find that contact lenses provide more stable vision and a wider field of view than eyeglasses do. You also don't have to worry about your glasses fogging up or getting knocked off during a game.
The 2007 Contact Lenses in Pediatrics (CLIP) study showed a variety of additional advantages. Three months after participants began wearing contact lenses for the first time, 169 teenagers and children ages 8 to 12 reported:
- They felt better about their appearance.
- Others reacted positively to their contact lenses.
- They performed activities better when wearing contact lenses.
In addition, 89 percent of teens and 83 percent of younger children felt contact lenses were easy to care for.*
So what are the downsides of contact lenses?
The most common problem is that, in extreme conditions, dirt or dust can get under the lenses, making them itchy or painful. This happens more often with rigid gas permeable lenses compared with soft contacts, which fit closer to the eye. You usually can solve the problem by using contact lens drops or removing the lens and rinsing it with contact lens solution.
Other contact lens-related problems may be caused by the wearer. If you don't clean your lenses properly or often enough, protein can build up on the lenses, leading to itching, blurring or possible infection.
Also, if you wear your contacts longer than the doctor recommends, you can deprive your eyes of oxygen, which can cause serious damage to the cornea. If you share your contacts with others (a big no-no), you risk major eye infection or disease.
Contact lenses are a more convenient option than glasses for all types of activities.
How do you know if you're a good candidate for contact lenses? Although it's not likely, you could have a vision problem that would make contacts an unrealistic choice. Or, you might want to avoid them if you have a lot of problems with your eyes, such as pink eye symptoms, other types of eye infections or dryness.
Contact Lens Cost
The price of contact lenses can vary significantly, depending on the type you choose. Sometimes glasses are cheaper, and sometimes contacts are the less expensive option. For example, daily disposable contact lenses may be more expensive than glasses.
For more details, visit our How Much Do Contacts Cost page.
Ideally, if you wear contact lenses, you also should have an updated pair of eyeglasses as a backup in case you lose a contact lens or your eyes become dry or irritated.
Types of Contact Lenses
If you opt for contact lenses, you have several varieties to choose from:
Soft Contact Lenses: Most people who wear contacts choose soft lenses, which are popular because they're immediately comfortable and easy to adapt to. Even people with sensitive eyes usually can wear soft lenses.
Gas Permeable Contact Lenses: An alternative to soft lenses is gas permeable contact lenses (also called GP or RGP contacts). These lenses are made of a variety of oxygen-permeable rigid plastic materials. Modern GP lenses have replaced old-fashioned hard contact lenses, which didn't allow oxygen to reach the eyes.
Sometimes people shy away from gas permeable lenses because it takes longer to adjust to them compared with soft contacts and the upfront cost of GP lenses is higher.
But RGP lenses have some great advantages. They often provide sharper vision than soft lenses do, and they are much more durable. And in some cases, wearing RGP lenses may help control myopia in children.
In addition, GP lenses often are more economical in the long run and may reduce the risk of contact lens-related eye infections.
RGP lenses can correct nearsightedness, farsightedness and even high amounts of astigmatism.
Hybrid Contact Lenses: Hybrid contact lenses offer the advantages of both soft and RGP lenses. The central zone of hybrid lenses is made of a GP material, providing clear, crisp vision; the center is surrounded by a soft lens "skirt," for greater comfort and easier adaptation.
Although hybrid contact lenses tend to cost more than soft or RGP lenses, they often are an excellent solution if you want the sharpest vision possible but cannot tolerate conventional RGP lenses.
Hybrid contact lenses can correct nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism.
Daily or Extended Wear: Contact lenses are divided into categories based on how long you wear them and how long you keep them: daily wear, extended wear, planned replacement, and disposable contact lenses. RGP and hybrid contacts are not available in disposable styles.
Contact Lenses With Sun Protection: Some soft contact lenses offer protection from the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays that have been associated with an increased risk of cataracts and other eye problems. But if you choose these lenses, make sure you also wear UV-blocking sunglasses when you're out in the sun. Sunglasses provide better UV protection because they shield your entire eye, not just the part under the contact lens.
Tinted Lenses: Many contacts have a light "handling tint" so you can find them more easily in their storage case or if you drop them. You can also get soft contacts that amplify or blend with the natural color of your eyes. These color-enhancing lenses work well with light-colored eyes. If you have dark eyes, tinted soft contact lenses with opaque colors can change your eye color completely.
Colored contacts are available even for people who don't need to correct their vision, but want to enhance or change their eye color.
Some contact lenses are available with special tints to wear during sports to heighten contrast, so you can see a tennis ball, baseball or golf ball better. And theatrical contact lenses, such as those used in scary movies, can dramatically alter the appearance of your eyes, with designs such as "cat eye" and "alien."
Check with your eye care practitioner for the latest available styles of colored and special-effect contact lenses.
Specialty Contacts: Specialty contact includes lenses with special tints to reduce color vision problems and opaque lenses to mask corneal irregularities or scars caused by an eye injury or congenital eye disease.
Additionally, orthokeratology (ortho-k) is a technique in which an eye doctor fits you with specially designed GP lenses that reshape your eye to correct nearsightedness and/or astigmatism. For ortho-k to be effective, you need to periodically wear retainer lenses to keep your eye in its new shape.
Specially designed RGP and hybrid contact lenses are available to treat a cornea disease called keratoconus.
Cleaning Your Contact Lenses
Whichever type of contacts you choose, you need to clean them whenever you take them off (except daily disposables, which you throw away after you wear them one day).
*Acuvue contact lens website.
[Page updated April 2011]