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Health

The reality of contact lenses

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Andy Simmons
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Flickr

Contact lenses have become a cultural norm as more and more people make the switch from glasses to contacts. But are people using these lenses correctly, and do they know exactly how these lenses even work?

This week on “Take Care,” we talk to contact lens expert Dr. Bryan Lee, a cornea, cataract and Lasik specialist, whose practice is located in Los Altos, California. Lee is also a member of the Council of American Academy of Ophthalmology.

What a contact lens does while on the eye is replaces focusing power, similarly to glasses. This helps correct near-sightedness, far-sightedness, or astigmatism.

What many might not know is that contact lenses might actually help improve one’s sight.

“I think that’s one of the potential benefits of contact lenses, is that, for most people, contact lenses, if worn correctly and safely, will give them better quality vision than they would get with glasses,” says Lee.

This doesn’t mean that everybody with vision trouble is a candidate for contact lenses.

“People who have very significant dry eye don’t do well with contacts,” says Lee. “People who have a lot of allergies similarly may not do well. And then there’s a category of people who are not able to wear contacts in the proper way in terms of safety and correct handling. Some people just can’t physically get a contact lens in, people who are older might tremor or something like that.”

Another surprising fact about contacts is that while wearing the lenses, they might affect the shape of your eye.

“When we’re preparing a patient for eye surgery we actually tell them they need to be out of contacts for a certain amount of time, because contact lenses definitely affect the shape of the cornea,” said Lee. “That condition is called ‘contact lens warpage.’”

Contact technology has evolved, and there are now many different types of contacts for different people. Most people have soft lens contacts, but some might have hard lenses.

“What patients often call hard lenses are actually gas permeable, or rigid gas permeable lenses. Those transmit an extremely high percentage of oxygen and are actually the safest kind contact lens to wear,” said Lee. “Soft lenses have continued to improve in terms of the plastics and materials that they are made out of, and so now there are soft lenses that also have very high oxygen transmission, and typically are sort of easier to handle, and are much more comfortable for some patients than gas permeable lenses.”

For someone starting out with lenses, Lee says that most begin with soft lenses because they are cheaper and easier to handle. But gas permeable contacts, or hard lenses, are said to be the safest for your eye.

“Only about 10 percent of contact lens wearers use a gas permeable lens. But that is the safest in terms of great oxygen transmission, much lower risk of infection …and it does provide the best quality of vision,” said Lee.

This risk of infection through contact lenses is usually due to the mishandling of the contacts, and Lee has seen all sorts of mishandling in his profession.

“The number one thing is really sleeping overnight with contact lenses, that’s the worst thing you can do in terms of safety. Sometimes you’ll see someone put a contact lens in their mouth if it falls out, please don’t ever do that, just throw it away,” Lee explains. “Using tap water to clean the contact lens case also is not good, you should just use solution and then let it air dry. The other thing is you should never reuse solution.”