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Beginner’s Guide to Contact Lenses

If you have not previously worn contact lenses or contacts, it may take some time to get used to wearing them. To transition from glasses to contacts, it helps to know the types of contacts and how you should wear and care for them. 

The following information in this beginner’s guide to contacts will help you sort things out and point you in the right direction.

What Are Contact Lenses?

Contact lenses are thin lenses that are curved and placed on the eye’s cornea. They correct refractive errors, such as myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), or astigmatism by realigning how light enters the eye. 

If you want to free yourself of wearing eyeglasses, contacts offer a way to do so.

Types of Contact Lenses

Contact lenses include soft or daily replacement lenses, rigid gas or gas-permeable lenses called RGPs or GPs, and extended wear contacts.

Soft Contact Lenses

Soft contact lenses are made of flexible plastic materials that permit oxygen to pass through to the cornea. They are more comfortable to wear than hard lenses. They are often preferred for regular use even though they may be more costly over time.

Disposable or Replacement Scheduled Contacts

When you wear soft contacts, you’re given a replacement schedule if you choose the disposable kind. Therefore, you’ll use the contacts once and discard and replace them every day.

Some sellers of contact lenses define “disposable” as contacts that are worn for a week to a month at a time. These contacts are therefore worn for a specific span of time. However, they do not meet the true definition of a disposable contact lens.

When caring for your contacts, it’s imperative to clean and disinfect them regularly before you reinsert them to prevent eye infections.

Rigid Gas Permeable Lenses 

Rigid gas permeable (RGP) lenses are made and FDA-approved to be worn overnight. RGPs are considered more resilient  than soft lenses, as they resist deposits and are made of stronger materials. They also provide the wearer with sharper vision.

Because RGPs are not as comfortable to wear as soft contacts, you may prefer to forego them for soft contact lenses. If you’ve been wearing RGPs, you can quickly adapt to wearing soft contacts in only a couple days.

Gas Permeable Lenses

Gas permeable (GP) lenses or hard contacts were first introduced in the late 1970s. They involve more advanced technology than their soft lens counterparts. 

Unlike soft lenses, which are considered more flexible, GP lenses (like RGPs) are more rigid. While soft lenses cover the total corneal surface, hard contacts or GPs cover 75 percent of the surface area.

Although GPs are not as soft and flexy as soft contacts, they still contain a small amount of silicone, making them more adaptable than the hard contacts of the past. Oxygen permeates through the lens when silicone is used, thereby safeguarding corneal health. 

GPs move more on the surface of the cornea as well. This allows tears to flow beneath the lens, so oxygen can be delivered to the cornea.

Scleral Contact Lenses

Scleral contact lenses represent a type of gas permeable (GP) lens made for patients with certain corneal abnormalities. The lens arches over the cornea and sits on the white part of the eye, or sclera.

When Hard Contact Are Prescribed

Hard contact lenses may be prescribed in certain situations, such as these: 

  • High degree of astigmatism (prescribed when soft contacts do not provide sharp enough vision)
  • High degree of refractive error 
  • Keratoconus, which is an eye condition that causes the cornea to project outward and take the form of a cone
  • Corneal issues or more fragile corneas

Extended Wear Contacts

You can wear extended wear contacts while sleeping. They are usually worn for less than a week, though some varieties can be worn for up to 30 days. 

Extended wear contacts are usually soft lenses, although some of the overnight contacts are RGPs. 

How long you wear your contacts will depend on the type of contacts you need and your ophthalmologist’s assessments with respect to tolerance.

Benefits of Contact Lenses

People who wear contacts often find that they see better with contacts than eyeglasses. That is because they have a broader field of vision. You can also wear contacts when engaging in more active pursuits — something that may be difficult to do with eyeglasses.

In addition, contacts do not fog up in cold weather like eyeglasses tend to. You can still remove contacts at the end of each day and give your eyes a rest.

Drawbacks Associated With Wearing Contacts

Some people don’t like contacts because they find them uncomfortable upon initial placement. In addition, they stand a greater risk of eye infections if the contacts are not properly cleaned. Contacts also increase the probability of eye dryness, irritation, and redness. 

Allergy sufferers often complain about wearing contacts when pollen counts are high. That is because the small allergic grains sometimes settle behind the lenses, which makes the eyes burn, water, or itch.

Who Should Wear Soft Contacts?

People who have moderate or mild myopia, hyperopia, or astigmatism fare well when wearing soft contacts. Since soft contacts are generally more comfortable than hard lenses, they work well for most people.

How to Place & Remove Soft Contacts

It’s relatively easy to put soft contacts in your eyes. The first time is generally the most difficult, but after a few times, it becomes second nature.

Inserting Soft Contacts

To insert your soft contacts, follow these steps:

  1. Before you begin, always thoroughly wash your hands with water and soap. Dry your hands with a soft and clean lint-free towel. Don’t use soap that contains a heavy oil or fragrance, as the chemicals can adhere to the surface of the lenses.
  2. Remove the contacts from their package or case, and use your fingertips (not the fingernails) to place the contacts in the middle of your palm. You might also pour the lenses from your case or storage package directly into the palm.
  3. Place a lens on the index finger of your dominant hand, making sure the lens is right side up. The correct lens shape should look like a bowl. Some lenses feature numbers, so you can quickly identify whether or not they are not inside out.
  4. Using your other hand and index and middle finger, softly lift your upper eyelid up toward the eyebrow, so your lashes don’t interfere with placement.
  5. Use your middle finger on the dominant hand to pull the lower lid down.
  6. Next, you need to either look up toward the ceiling or stare straight ahead. Gradually position the lens in the middle of your eye.
  7. Once you place the lens, look down and blink several times so it moves to the proper position.
  8. Release the eyelids so you can check your vision.

What to Do if You Place Your Soft Contacts Inside Out

If you make a mistake and place your contact inside out, you’ll know almost immediately. Not only will your eye hurt, but you’ll also experience blurred vision. 

If this happens, quickly remove the lens and place it in your palm. Re-wet the contact with fresh solution, and repeat the above steps to put the contact in your eye the correct way.

Using One Hand for Placement

Some people who wear soft contact lenses prefer to use one hand. This insertion method involves pulling the lower eyelid down with the middle finger, looking up toward the ceiling, and softly placing the lens on the lower white section of your eye. 

If you use this method, you’ll need to look down, closing your eyes for a few seconds, until the lens settles properly in the center of the eye.

How to Remove Soft Contacts

When removing your soft contacts, follow these steps:

  1. To remove your soft contacts, you’ll again need to wash your hands thoroughly with water and soap. Then, dry them on a lint-free, clean, soft towel.
  2. Look up at the ceiling, and use the middle finger on the dominant hand to carefully pull down the lower eyelid.
  3. Use the index finger of the dominant hand to direct the lower edge of the contact toward the bottom part of the eye.
  4. Squeeze the lens carefully between the index finger and thumb to remove the contact.

Placing & Removing Hard Contact Lenses

To put hard contact lenses in, the process is similar to that used for soft contact lenses.

How to Place Hard Contacts

Follow the steps below to place hard contacts:

  1. Wash your hands with a mild soap and water, and dry with a clean, lint-free towel.
  2. Remove the contact from its storage case, and place the lens on the dominant hand’s index finger.
  3. Check the contact for any debris, cracks, or chips.
  4. Rinse the lens with a saline solution.
  5. Use the middle finger of your non-dominant hand, gently lifting the upper eyelid toward the brow to keep the lashes from getting in the way.
  6. Use the middle finger of the dominant hand, pulling down the lower eyelid.
  7. Stare directly head, gradually bringing the hard contact lens up toward the eye before placing it in the center.
  8. Blink several times so the lens will settle in the proper position in the eye’s center.
  9. Release the eyelids, and check your vision.

What to Do if Your RGP or GP Lens Falls Away From the Center Position

If you have trouble with positioning your hard contacts, you’ll need to take the following steps.

  1. Use a mirror to determine the location of the lens in your eye.
  2. If you’re unable to spot the lens, use your finger and massage the upper eyelid to check the location.
  3. Once you feel the lens, direct your gaze in the opposite direction of where the lens is located. For instance, if the lens is in the outer corner, look toward the nose. If the lens has settled in the upper eyelid, look down.
  4. Use the tips of your fingers on the closed eyelid to reposition the lens and shift your gaze toward the contact, putting it back into position.

Removing Your Hard Contacts Using the Blink Method

You can use the following “blink” technique to remove hard contact lenses:

  1. Stare directly ahead.
  2. Use your middle finger to pull the skin on the outer corner of the eyelid.
  3. Blink until the contact pops out.
  4. The lens will usually fall beneath the eye onto the cheek or a flat surface. Be prepared to capture it with a towel or your other hand. If you’re removing the contact over the sink, cover the drain with a clean towel to prevent the lens from getting lost or dirty.

Using the 2-Finger Method for Removing Hard Contacts

You can also remove contacts using two fingers. Follow the steps below:

  1. Using the middle finger of the non-dominant hand, softly lift your upper eyelid toward the brow to prevent the lashes from getting in the way.
  2. Use the middle finger on the dominant hand, pulling the lower lid down.
  3. Gently push the eyelid from the outer corner and toward the nose, so the contact will pop out.

Using a DMV/Removal Plunger to Remove RGP or GP Hard Contact Lenses

You can also use a device, called a DMV plunger or removal plunger, to remove scleral contacts or hard contacts. You’ll need to do the following:

  1. Hold the plunger so it is in alignment with the lower third part of the lens, avoiding the center of the eye.
  2. When you feel the suction, softly pull up and out, using a smooth movement.
  3. Squeeze the grip of the plunger to let go of the suction.
  4. Place your hard contact in a clear storage case filled with a fresh solution of saline.

Caring for Your Contacts

To ensure the your eyes stay healthy and your contacts work well, follow these steps:

  • Keep your regular eye care appointments for regular replacement of your contact lenses.
  • Follow your eye doctor’s instructions for cleaning and storing your lenses.
  • Never wear your contacts if you’ve stored them for 30 days or longer without disinfecting them.
  • Get regular eye exams. Because your cornea may change shape or your contacts may warp, you’ll need to ensure you still have the right prescription and fit over time.
  • Never shower, swim, or take part in an activity where you can get water into your eyes. Contacts don’t mix well with water.
  • Never sleep in daily wear contact lenses.

See a Professional

If you have any trouble with your contacts or experience any pain or discomfort, consult your eye doctor. It could be a sign of a more serious problem. 

References

  1. Soft vs. Rigid Contact Lenses. (May 2022). University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics.

  2. Types of Contact Lenses. U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

  3. What Is Presbyopia? (November 2022). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  4. What Is Keratoconus? (November 2022). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  5. How to Take Care of Contact Lenses. (April 2022). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Last Updated December 20, 2022

Note: This page should not serve as a substitute for professional medical advice from a doctor or specialist. Please review our about page for more information.