Have you considered making the change from glasses to contact lenses? For some people, contact lenses are a far more convenient option than glasses. While they come with a bit of a learning curve for first-time wearers, once you get used to them, they’re easy to use.
Of course, few things are more personal than choosing contact lenses. A proper fit not only corrects your vision, it also means they’ll be more comfortable for all-day wear. It all begins with a trip to the optometrist for a vision exam to determine which prescription is right for you. As your optometrist will tell you, contact lenses aren’t one-size-fits-all. In fact, the measurements of your eye, your vision conditions, and lifestyle all play a role in your prescription. That said, you might be able to try more than one type of contact lens to find the right pair.
To help you stay informed about your contact lens purchase, we’ve assembled this buying guide. Pick up some shopping tips, see some recommendations, and learn what to expect as you transition to contact lenses.
Prescriptions for eyeglasses and contact lenses are totally different and can’t be used interchangeably. Your optometrist will give you one of each after a vision exam, unless you elect to have a lens-only or glasses-only exam.
Visiting the optometrist
A prescription is required to purchase contact lenses, so you’ll need to make an appointment with an optometrist. The optometrist examines your eyes for vision problems to determine whether you need correction by way of glasses or contact lenses. They can also identify other problems with vision or eye health, in which case you may be referred to an ophthalmologist.
Once your vision exam is completed, you’ll be provided with a contact lens prescription. It contains four main pieces of information, which are required in order for it to be filled by a retailer or pharmacy: power, base curve, diameter, and brand.
Power: This refers to the strength of your prescription and is expressed in positive numbers for farsightedness or negative numbers for nearsightedness. It may be abbreviated as PWR or SPH.
Base curve: This refers to the curve of your lens, which ranges from 8 to 10. Keep in mind that not all brands offer lenses in more than a few base curve options. It may be abbreviated as BC.
Diameter: This refers to the width of the contact lens in millimeters and generally ranges from 13.5 to 15. It may be abbreviated as DIA.
Brand: This refers to the brand of contacts that fits you based on your prescription. One thing to note is that if you don’t like the contact lenses for some reason, you can’t simply try another brand with the same prescription. Rather, you’ll need a new prescription from your optometrist.
What can contacts correct?
Nearsightedness and farsightedness: Perhaps the most common vision issues discussed are nearsightedness and farsightedness. With nearsightedness, objects close to you appear clear, while objects that are farther away appear blurry. It’s the opposite with farsightedness.
Most people who purchase contact lenses do so to correct nearsightedness. While contact lenses are not unheard of for those with farsightedness, many people choose to simply wear glasses for up-close work like reading or crafts.
If you require more than one prescription in a single lens, meaning the lens corrects for distance, middle, and close vision, you may need to use multifocal or bifocal contact lenses. These are specially made to blend your prescriptions together to allow for a gradual transition to view objects at all distances.
Astigmatism: This is another common vision issue that can be diagnosed in a vision exam and corrected with contact lenses. When you have astigmatism, your cornea has an irregular curve. This results in blurry or distorted vision due to the way light passes to your retina.
Contact lenses for astigmatism are specially shaped and designed to correct this unique yet common condition. Hard contact lenses for astigmatism create a normal, spherical surface over your corneas. Soft contact lenses for astigmatism bend light in such a way that it passes to your retina correctly.
For your safety
When removing your contact lenses, always place them in a clean lens case with new contact lens solution. Never reuse solution, because it can transfer residue or bacteria to your eyes.
Hard vs. soft contact lenses
Most soft contact lenses are made of hydrophilic plastics or hydrogel or both. Those made with hydrophilic plastics absorb water and are generally successful at staying moist, flexible, and nonirritating during wear.
Soft contact lenses made with silicone hydrogel leverage the moisture-absorbing design of hydrophilic plastic lenses. Their design includes the added benefit of allowing more water and oxygen to reach the eye, making them a popular choice for extended-wear soft contact lenses.
Hard contact lenses, also called rigid gas permeable (RGB) lenses, are also made of plastic but have a much different design. While they don’t absorb moisture like soft contact lenses, they are porous. Their microscopic holes allow for water and oxygen to permeate the surface of the lens to reach the eye.
If your prescription indicates disposable soft contact lenses, and these are by far the most popular, you’ll need to change them daily, biweekly, or monthly.
Daily: These lenses are popular since they’re disposed of often enough to prevent buildup, and you don’t need to spend time cleaning them overnight, as is the case with biweekly or monthly lenses.
Biweekly: These lenses are more durable since they last longer, not to mention are less likely to dry out and become brittle like dailies sometimes do. They are, however, susceptible to buildup over the course of a fortnight of wear.
Monthly: These contact lenses are far less likely to tear and stay moist. They require a bit more commitment and care with cleaning to keep them crystal clear and free of residue.
Filling your prescription
In the past, people typically filled their contact lens prescription at the optician’s office or took advantage of specials from optical retailers and department stores with vision centers. Now you’re able to purchase contact lenses online with a current prescription. Each online retailer requires you to upload a copy of the prescription, and they generally only accept ones that have been written in the last six months to a year.
As far as shipping goes, you can expect your contact lenses to be delivered between a few days and a couple weeks from the time your order is processed. Shipping time varies the most among online retailers. While some offer expedited delivery for an added cost, many offer only one option for shipping.
You’re able to order contact lenses in different quantities, which is typically expressed in terms of supply. Three-month, six-month, and one-year supplies are most common. If you’re looking to purchase outside of these supply schedules, you’ll need to speak to the retailer directly, because not all of them are able to fulfill customized requests.
What many contact lens wearers do to ensure a constant supply is sign up for a subscription or automatic shipping. Not only does this save money in the long run, but you don’t need to worry about forgetting to order your lenses and risk going without them until they arrive.
Contact lens prices
Contact lenses vary considerably in price, but one thing they all have in common is that they’re an ongoing cost compared to glasses. With eyeglasses, your only costs are the price of the eye exam, frames, and lenses. While it’s recommended to have your eyes examined annually, you don’t need to pay for new frames or lenses if your prescription doesn’t change.
Contact lenses can cost as much as $175 to $750 per year. The price is a bit hard to categorize because there are so many variables, including brand, prescription strength, and retailer. Generally speaking, here are some estimates:
You can expect to spend from $175 to $350 annually.
You can expect to spend from $250 to $450 annually.
Individuals who need special contact lenses for astigmatism, multiple prescriptions, or other vision problems can expect to spend from $300 to $750 annually.
If you wear eye makeup, consider switching to contact lens-safe products. Regular eye makeup can settle on lenses and irritate eyes, potentially causing infections.
Wash your hands before touching your lenses. Before you remove or put in your contact lenses, wash your hands thoroughly. Be sure to rinse off any soapy residue because it can stick to lenses and irritate your eyes.
Ask for samples. Some optometrists and retailers offer a pair of sample contact lenses to try. It’s worth wearing them for a day to see if you’d benefit from making a switch.
Pay attention to residue and damage. If you notice that your eyes feel irritated while wearing your contact lenses, it could be that there is dust or residue on the lenses or that they’ve torn. You can clean lenses with solution, but replace a torn lens immediately.
Tell your optometrist if you frequently experience dry eyes. They may prescribe contact lenses that have a high water content and excel in moisture retention.
Q. What should I do with my eyeglasses that I won’t wear anymore?
A. While you could donate them, it’s recommended that you keep them on hand just in case you can’t wear your lenses. If you get an eye infection, for example, you won’t be able to wear contact lenses, so you’ll need to wear glasses until your eyes heal. Glasses are also important to keep on hand in case your contact lenses are backordered and won’t be delivered until after your supply is used up.
Q. Will I have to change the type of contact lenses I use as I age?
A. Yes, it’s common to change lenses to accommodate age-related vision changes. Many contact lenses are now designed for individuals between the ages of 40 and 60 who experience gradual loss in visual acuity. These lenses are often designed to retain moisture better to combat dry eyes.
Q. Is it common to have a different prescription for each eye?
A. Yes, and it’s more common than you think. This information is stipulated on your prescription as Left Eye (OS) and Right Eye (OD). Even if the prescriptions are close, it’s not recommended that you switch them between your eyes. You might end up with tension headaches or uncorrected vision because your eyes have difficulty focusing.