“Soft contact lenses, just $19, plus a free pair of sunglasses!” Thumb through any newspaper today and you will find “come-ons” like this one. But what do you get for your $19? What are soft contact lenses? Reading this will provide information to help you decide whether to obtain soft contact lenses, what kind, and where to get them.
Between 25 and 27 million Americans wear contact lenses. The majority use these devices to correct vision as an alternative to glasses. Approximately 85% use soft lenses because of the superior comfort provided. Contact lenses fit over the cornea, the transparent out coat of the eye. Soft lenses are made of hydrophilic (water loving) plastics that absorb fluid. When these materials soak up water, they become supple and soft. The water content can vary from 37% to 80%. Soft lenses are used to correct nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia), and some degrees of astigmatism. Soft lenses may also be prescribed following cataract surgery for vision correction. This use of soft lenses is much less common since the advent of the intraocular lens implant, an artificial lens that replaces the cloudy natural lens removed during cataract surgery.
Multifocal soft contact lenses, which correct for both distance and near vision, have been available for a few years. Initial expectations were high but success rates in fitting this type of lens have been low (10% – 30%) because of the low degree of vision provided. Today, success rates have improved to 70%-80% due to multifocal contact lenses.
Tinted soft lenses received much attention when they came on the scene several years ago. There are two types: (1) those that darken light-colored eyes and (2) those that lighten dark-colored dyes. The Iris is the colored portion of the eye seen through the Cornea. Its color is determined by the amount of pigmentation present and is genetically programmed. People with gray, pale blue, light hazel or green eyes can alter their eye color in a cosmetically acceptable fashion with tinted soft lenses, without changing their color perception. This type of lens with a solid tint will not appreciably alter dark-colored eyes. For people with dark-colored eyes, a certain company makes a lens with a dot pattern that is dense enough to change brown and dark-hazel eyes into light brown, blue, green, or aqua. The acceptability of the appearance provided by these lenses depends on the individual.
Soft lenses can be made thick or thin, depending on the patient’s needs. If they are made very thin or if they contain a large amount of water, they allow a sufficient amount of oxygen to pass through to the eye to permit long wearing periods and thus are called extended wear lenses. They can be worn for days at a time unlike daily wear lenses, which must be removed every night. Recent evidence, however, suggests that caution be exercised in their use due to an increased risk of serious corneal infection with overnight wear. Daily wear use of these soft lenses doesn’t increase the risk of infection over lenses specifically designed for daily wear.
Use of any kind of contact lens is accompanied by the slight risk of ocular complications, including the following: Eye infection, allergic reactions to lens care solutions and contaminants on or in the lens, inflammation of the eye, abrasions, change in the shape of the cornea, and blood vessels growing into the normally clear cornea. Infection by microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, or amoebae) are of greatest concern because they are potentially sight threatening. For daily wear use of soft lenses, the risk of infection appears to be less than 1%. Overnight use of soft lenses increases that risk to about 3%.
The risk for developing ocular complications significantly increases with misuse of lens care solutions, failure to properly disinfect lenses, and cutting corners to save time and money. The use of homemade, nonsterile, saline solutions is no longer recommended. Following and receiving proper instructions on handling lenses is extremely important.
If you decide to obtain contact lenses, the following items will be helpful:
Find a good Optometrist or Ophthalmologist with experience in contact lens care who has a reputation for being primarily interested in caring for patients, not in selling a product. The best way to find a good doctor is through personal recommendation. Media ads tell you about products, not care, so be cautious about responding to these offers.
Inquire about follow-up or aftercare. Follow-up visits after the initial examination are important in determining the final contact lens prescription, preventing complications, and maintaining good vision.
Inquire about fees. The cost of contact lenses is generally broken down into professional fees, which should include aftercare, and then into the cost of lens materials. You get what you pay for, so be wary of sales and bargains. These low prices usually do not include the eye exam and lens fitting and may apply to only one brand of lens, which may not be appropriate for you. Numerous chemical compounds, thickness, shapes, and sizes are available in soft lenses. Despite what advertisers claim, the selection of a lens material (and, hence, company) is an integral part of a contact lens prescription and is not a factor that the consumer has enough knowledge of. Choosing a specific brand of soft lens is equivalent to choosing which pacemaker a cardiac surgeon is to implant. Your doctor should decide which brand of material is best for your eyes.
Once you obtain your lenses, follow your doctor’s instructions and return to your doctor immediately if any discomfort, reduction in vision, or other symptoms develop.
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