By Michael Cole, ODChild and Family Eye Care Center

CONTACT LENSES ARE essential in the lives of millions of people every day. With hundreds of different contact lens options out there, how does one know which would be best? In such a large industry, the technology is always rapidly improving and expanding the usefulness of contact lenses.

Most major manufacturers are moving away from older, monthly replacement lens designs, opting for more frequent replacement daily disposable contact lenses. Daily disposable lenses are more comfortable, healthier, and require much less care than their reusable counterparts. Daily disposable lenses are a great option for the occasional wearer, those with seasonal allergies, and for environments that make careful cleaning and disinfection of reusable lenses difficult.

There are certain cases in which the front surface of the eye, the cornea, does not allow for light to pass through it properly. Some of the corneal conditions that affect the quality of one’s best corrected vision include keratoconus, severe dry eye, post-surgical corneas, and corneal scars. Glasses do not provide adequate vision when the surface of the eye is highly irregular. The best option that we have in these unique circumstances is rigid contact lenses. In the past, small diameter rigid lenses were most commonly used. These lenses provide great clarity of vision but had the drawback of being very uncomfortable due to their rigidity and small size. Most contact lens practitioners have opted for newer, more customizable, larger diameter rigid contact lenses called scleral lenses.

These contact lenses are termed “scleral” lenses due to their large diameter lens designs resting the weight of the lens on the white part of the eye — the sclera.

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Scleral lenses have many advantages over their older, small-diameter rigid lens counterparts. Because these lenses are much larger, they do not move around on the surface of the eye and interact much less with the eyelids, making them considerably more comfortable than other traditional rigid lenses, even rivaling the comfort of soft lenses. They create a new optical surface for the eye, providing great vision for even the most irregular corneal shapes. Underneath the lens is a fluid-filled chamber, which in some cases is the only way to treat severe dry eye. Scleral lenses can also be made to correct very high prescriptions, up to -40.00! Due to their versatility, comfort, and incredible optics, scleral lenses have become the premier option for cases with difficult to correct vision.

Another unique contact lens option gaining popularity is ortho-k lens designs. These lenses are worn exclusively at night. The lenses redistribute water content throughout the cornea, causing a temporary reshaping of the eye. Due to this reshaping effect, no correction needs to be worn during the day. This effect is temporary, and the eye will return to its previous state after not wearing the contact lenses at night for a few days. These lenses are perfect for those who are intolerant to regular daytime contact lens wear, and also have the added benefit of slowing the rate of change of myopia in children.

Some recent online-only contact lens vendors have been marketing contact lenses direct to patients mostly through social media. They have, in effect, resurrected decades old contact lens technology and repackaged it to seem new. Health care practitioners have long since avoided these lenses due to their poor comfort and inherent health risks. Because there are so many healthy, comfortable, and affordable up-to-date contact lens options, these decades-old lens designs and materials are definitely not recommended.

If you have been unsuccessful in contact lens wear previously, or your clarity of vision is limited, recent innovations in contact lens technology may present new options for you.