- Types of contact lenses
- Soft contact lenses
- Rigid-gas-permeable (RGP) contact lenses
- Extended wear contact lenses
- Disposable (replacement schedule) contact lenses
- Lens comparison
- Specialized uses of contact lenses
- Orthokeratology (Ortho-K)
- Decorative (Plano) contact lenses
- Contact lens solutions and products
Types of Contact Lenses
Soft contact lenses are made of soft, flexible plastics that allow oxygen to pass through to the cornea. Soft contact lenses may be easier to adjust to and are more comfortable than rigid gas permeable lenses. Newer soft lens materials include silicone-hydrogels to provide more oxygen to your eye while you wear your lenses.
Rigid-Gas-Permeable (RGP) Contact Lenses
Rigid gas permeable contact lenses (RGPs) are more durable and resistant to deposit buildup, and generally give a clearer, crisper vision. They tend to be less expensive over the life of the lens since they last longer than soft contact lenses. They are easier to handle and less likely to tear. However, they are not as comfortable initially as soft contacts and it may take a few weeks to get used to wearing RGPs, compared to several days for soft contacts.
Extended Wear Contact Lenses
Extended wear contact lenses are available for overnight or continuous wear ranging from one to six nights or up to 30 days. Extended wear contact lenses are usually soft contact lenses. They are made of flexible plastics that allow oxygen to pass through to the cornea. There are also a very few rigid gas permeable lenses that are designed and approved for overnight wear. Length of continuous wear depends on lens type and your eye care professional's evaluation of your tolerance for overnight wear. It's important for the eyes to have a rest without lenses for at least one night following each scheduled removal.
Disposable (Replacement Schedule) Contact Lenses
The majority of soft contact lens wearers are prescribed some type of frequent replacement schedule. "Disposable," as defined by the FDA, means used once and discarded. With a true daily wear disposable schedule, a brand new pair of lenses is used each day.
Some soft contact lenses are referred to as "disposable" by contact lens sellers, but actually, they are for frequent/planned replacement. With extended wear lenses, the lenses may be worn continuously for the prescribed wearing period (for example, 7 days to 30 days) and then thrown away. When you remove your lenses, make sure to clean and disinfect them properly before reinserting.
The American Optometric Association has more detailed information about contact lenses including a lens comparison chart.
American Optometric Association
Specialized Uses of Contact Lenses
Conventional contact lenses correct vision in the same way that glasses do, only they are in contact with the eye. Two types of lenses that serve a different purpose are orthokeratology lenses and decorative (plano) lenses.
Orthokeratology, or Ortho-K, is a lens fitting procedure that uses specially designed rigid gas permeable (RGP) contact lenses to change the curvature of the cornea to temporarily improve the eye's ability to focus on objects. This procedure is primarily used for the correction of myopia (nearsightedness).
Overnight Ortho-K lenses are the most common type of Ortho-K. There are some Ortho-K lenses that are prescribed only for daytime wear. Overnight Ortho-K lenses are commonly prescribed to be worn while sleeping for at least eight hours each night. They are removed upon awakening and not worn during the day. Some people can go all day without their glasses or contact lenses. Others will find that their vision correction will wear off during the day.
The vision correction effect is temporary. If Ortho-K is discontinued, the corneas will return to their original curvature and the eye to its original amount of nearsightedness. Ortho-K lenses must continue to be worn every night or on some other prescribed maintenance schedule in order to maintain the treatment effect. Your eye care professional will determine the best maintenance schedule for you.
Currently, FDA requires that eye care professionals be trained and certified before using overnight Ortho-K lenses in their practice. You should ask your eye care professional about what lenses he or she is certified to fit if you are considering this procedure.
Decorative (Plano) Contact Lenses
Some contact lenses do not correct vision and are intended solely to change the appearance of the eye. These are sometimes called plano, zero-powered or non-corrective lenses. For example, they can temporarily change a brown-eyed person's eye color to blue, or make a person's eyes look "weird" by portraying Halloween themes. Even though these decorative lenses don't correct vision, they're regulated by the FDA, just like corrective contact lenses. They also carry the same risks to the eye. These risks include:
FDA is aware that consumers without valid prescriptions have bought decorative contact lenses from beauty salons, record stores, video stores, flea markets, convenience stores, beach shops and the Internet. Buying contact lenses without a prescription is dangerous!
If you're considering getting decorative contact lenses, you should:
- get an eye exam from a licensed eye care professional
- get a valid prescription that includes the brand and lens dimensions
- buy the lenses from an eye care professional or from a vendor who requires that you provide prescription information for the lenses
- follow directions for cleaning, disinfection, and wearing the lenses, and visit your eye care professional for follow-up eye exams
FDA issued a guidance document, "Guidance for Industry, FDA Staff, Eye Care Professionals, and Consumers - Decorative, Non-corrective Contact Lenses" on November 24, 2006. This guidance document explains the recently enacted legislation which make all contact lenses, including decorative, non-corrective contact lenses medical devices. The document also gives instructions on how to provide comments and suggestions to FDA about this issue.
Contact Lens Solutions and Products
There are a variety of solutions that can be used for the various types of contact lenses. But these solutions can also cause serious problems if not used correctly. Incorrect care of contact lens solutions can increase your risk of eye infections and corneal ulcers. These conditions can develop very quickly and can be very serious. In rare cases, these conditions can cause blindness.
To reduce your risk of infections:
- Always wash your hands before handling contact lenses to reduce the chance of getting an infection.
- Remove the lenses immediately and consult your eye care professional if your eyes become red, irritated, or your vision changes.
- Always follow the directions of your eye care professional and all labeling instruction for proper use of contact lenses and lens care products.
- Use contact lens products and solutions recommended by your eye care professional.
- Do not use contact lens solutions that have gone beyond the expiration or discard date.
- Only use sterile saline solutions for rinsing. Do not use them for cleaning and disinfecting your lenses.
- Rub and rinse your contact lenses as directed by your eye care professional.
- Clean and disinfect your lenses properly following all labeling instructions provided with your lens care products
- Do not “top-off” the solutions in your case. Always discard all of the left over contact lens solution after each use. Never reuse any lens solution.
- Do not expose your contact lenses to any water: tap, bottled, distilled, lake or ocean water. Never use non-sterile water (distilled water, tap water or any homemade saline solution). Exposure of contact lenses to water has been associated with Acanthamoeba keratitis, a corneal infection that is resistant to treatment and cure.
- Do not put your lenses in your mouth to wet them. Saliva is not a sterile solution.
- Clean, rinse and air-dry your lens case each time lenses are removed. You may want to flip over your lens case while air drying so excess solution may drain out of the case. Contact lens cases can be a source of bacterial growth.
- Replace your contact lens storage case every 3-6 months.
- Do not transfer contact lens solutions into smaller travel size containers. This can effect the sterility of the solution which can lead to an eye infection. Transferring solutions into smaller size containers may also leave consumers open to accidentally using a solution not intended for the eyes.
To view a video on handling, inserting, removing and caring for your contact lenses, go to:
American Optometric Association
Latest Eyesight News
Daily Health News
There are two types of contact lenses: rigid gas permeable (RGP) and soft.
Multimedia: Slideshows, Images & Quizzes
Related Disease Conditions
A corneal ulcer is an open sore on the cornea. Infection is a common cause of corneal ulcer. Symptoms and signs of corneal ulcer include redness, eye pain and discharge, blurred vision, photophobia, and a gray or white spot on the cornea. Treatment depends upon the cause of the corneal ulcer.
Pinkeye, also called conjunctivitis, is redness or irritation of the conjunctivae, the membranes on the inner part of the eyelids and the membranes covering the whites of the eyes. These membranes react to a wide range of bacteria, viruses, allergy-provoking agents, irritants, and toxic agents.
Marfan syndrome is hereditary (genetic) condition affecting connective tissue. A person with Marfan syndrome may exhibit the following symptoms and characteristics: Dislocation of one or both lenses of the eye A protruding or indented breastbone Scoliosis Flat feet Aortic dilatation Dural ectasia (a problem with the sac surrounding the spinal cord) Stretch marks Hernia Collapsed lung Though there is no cure for Marfan syndrome, there are treatments that can minimize and sometimes prevent some complications.
Fragrances and preservatives in cosmetics may cause allergic reactions in some people. Symptoms include redness, itching, and swelling after the product comes in contact with the person's skin. Treatment typically involves the use of over-the-counter cortisone creams.
The cornea is the clear outer layer of the eye. If it is damaged by disease, infection, or injury, vision problems may occur. Corneal problems can be detected by having an eye exam. Corneal problems can be prevented by protecting the eyes from injury and avoiding contact with people who have eye infections.
Dry eyes are caused by an imbalance in the tear-flow system of the eye, but also can be caused by the drying out of the tear film. This can be due to dry air created by air conditioning, heat, or other environmental conditions. Treatment may involve self-care measures, medications, or rarely, surgery.
Eye Care and Eye Disorder
Many common eye disorders resolve without treatment and some may be managed with over-the-counter (OTC) products. It's important to visit a physician or ophthalmologist is the problem involves the eyeball itself or the condition hasn't improved after 72 hours of use of an eye-care OTC product.
Treatment & Diagnosis
- Drugs: Buying Prescription Drugs Online Safely
- How To Reduce Your Medication Costs
- Pharmacy Visit, How To Get The Most Out of Your Visit
- Indications for Drugs: Approved vs. Non-approved
- Drugs: The Most Common Medication Errors
- Medication Disposal
- Dangers of Mixing Medications
- Generic Drugs, Are They as Good as Brand-Names?
Medications & Supplements
Prevention & Wellness
- Spring Break Is No Vacation From Contact Lens Care
- Wearing Contacts 24/7 Can Bring Infection, Blindness, Doctors Warn
- Decorative Contact Lenses a Danger at Halloween, Any Time
- Health Tip: Wearing Colored Contacts
- Contact Lenses May Harbor Serious, Blinding Infection
- Sleep in Your Contacts, Risk Serious Eye Damage: CDC
- First Auto-Darken Contact Lenses Approved
- Most Contact Lens Wearers Take Chances With Their Eyes: CDC
- Health Tip: Don't Use Costume Contact Lenses
- It's 'Buyer Beware' for Decorative Contact Lenses, FDA Says
- Bacteria May Survive Longer in Contact Lens Solution Than Thought
- Most Contact Lens Users Don't Follow Safety Steps
IMAGESBrowse through our medical image collection to see illustrations of human anatomy and physiology See Images
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Report Problems to the Food and Drug Administration
You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit the FDA MedWatch website or call 1-800-FDA-1088.