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Soft Contact Lenses

What are soft contact lenses?

Soft contact lenses are lenses made of hydrophilic (water-absorbing) plastics. When these materials soak up liquids, they become soft and mold to fit the eyeball. Soft lenses can correct many vision problems. They are quite different from gas permeable lenses.

When are they used?

Soft contact lenses are used to correct farsightedness, nearsightedness, and some kinds of astigmatism (uneven curving of the cornea, which is the clear outer layer on the front of the eye).

The advantages of soft contact lenses, compared to gas permeable contact lenses, include:

  • They are usually more comfortable.
  • It take less time to adjust to them.
  • They are less likely to fall out.

The disadvantages of soft contact lenses include:

  • Soft lenses are harder to insert than gas permeable lenses.
  • Soft lenses must be cleaned and sterilized carefully.
  • Soft lenses can be more expensive than gas permeable lenses. They are less durable and need to be replaced more often. Also, you need to buy several cleaning and storing solutions for soft lenses.
  • Wearers of soft contact lenses may be more likely to get eye infections than wearers of gas permeable lenses. Eye infections must be recognized quickly and treated promptly. Otherwise they can cause serious, sometimes permanent, vision problems.

What are the types of soft contact lenses?

Daily-wear soft contact lenses:

  • must be removed and cleaned every night
  • may be made thick or thin, depending on your needs

Extended-wear soft contact lenses:

  • are very thin but contain a lot of water, which allows oxygen to reach the eyeball even if they are worn for long periods
  • some types can be worn for up to 6 consecutive days and nights. However, your healthcare provider may advise that you not wear your contacts when you sleep
  • are more likely to cause infections of the cornea than daily-wear lenses. This risk increases with overnight use

Disposable contact lenses:

  • can be used for a certain period of time (monthly, weekly, or daily) and then thrown away
  • must be cleaned every night
  • are less likely to cause infection and require less cleaning than regular soft contacts
  • are more expensive than regular soft contacts

Soft contact lenses can be made into bifocals to correct for both distance and near vision, but bifocal contacts are often difficult to get a good fit. Soft contacts can also be tinted to darken light-colored eyes or lighten dark-colored eyes.

How can I get contact lenses?

You need to have a thorough eye exam with an eye doctor, who will:

  • measure the curvature of the cornea, check the position of your eyelids, and check the health of the surface of your eye and eyelids
  • advise either gas permeable or soft lenses
  • teach you how to put on or take off your lenses
  • review with you how to best care for your lenses
  • check your eyes regularly after you begin wearing your lenses full time

Slight discomfort when you first start wearing contact lenses is normal. If you have any pain in your eyes, see your eye care provider. You should have checkups of your eyes and lenses 1 week, 2 weeks, 1 month, 6 months, and 1 year after you first get them. If you have any problems, you may need to go for checkups more often.

What precautions should I take with soft contact lenses?

  • When you first start wearing contacts, carefully follow the break-in schedule prescribed by your eye care provider.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before you put in or take out your lenses.
  • Use lens care solutions properly. Disinfect your lenses as instructed by your eye care provider. Do not use homemade or non-sterile saline solutions because they could lead to eye infections.
  • Do not wear your lenses while swimming because soft lenses absorb chemicals from the water and you are more likely to develop an infection.
  • Do not sleep with your lenses in your eyes. Even with extended-wear contacts it is best to take them out at night to decrease your chance of an infection.
  • Always insert your contact lenses before you put on makeup. Use water-soluble makeup. Do not use lash-building mascara, which may drop particles into your eyes. Eyeliner applied between the lashes and the eyes may discolor soft lenses permanently.
  • If you use aerosol sprays such as deodorant and hair spray, use them before you put in your lenses.
  • If you have medical problems, note on your Medic Alert bracelet or card that you wear contact lenses.
  • See your eye care provider if you have any burning, redness, pain, unusual light sensitivity, or blurry vision.

What are some problems with soft contact lenses?

Wearing soft contact lenses may lead to:

  • eye infections if you do not take proper care of the lenses
  • allergic reactions to lens care solutions and contaminants on or in the lenses
  • inflammation (redness) of the eye
  • a scratched cornea

You may find it hard to wear contact lenses if you have:

  • severely irritated eyes from allergies or exposure to dust or chemicals at your job
  • an overactive thyroid gland, uncontrolled diabetes, severe arthritis, or a tremor in your hands
  • dry eyes because of pregnancy, birth control pills, diuretics, antihistamines, or decongestants
Reviewed for medical accuracy by faculty at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins. Web site: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/wilmer/
Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-10-29
Last reviewed: 2010-09-07
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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