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Hard vs. Soft Contact Lenses

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A woman using her left index finger to pull her eyelid down while she puts a contact lens on her right eye with her right hand.

Contact lenses can be a convenient choice for treating vision problems. They provide a clear, unobstructed view of the world around you, and they’re easy to use. They let you enjoy your activities without worrying about glasses getting in the way. But there’s more than one type of contact lens.

The 2 main types of contacts you’ll come across are hard lenses and soft lenses. Hard lenses are more durable and long-lasting but can take some time to get used to. Meanwhile, soft lenses are more comfortable but need to be replaced more often.

There are also specialty contacts aiming to correct common vision conditions like astigmatism, making it essential to have a proper contact lens fitting before you make a purchase.

How Do Contact Lenses Work?

To understand how contacts work, you first need to know a bit about refractive errors. There are several different types of refractive errors:

These conditions all affect how your eyes refract light—hence the name. Instead of light reaching the proper focal point in the eye to build a clear image, the rays converge elsewhere. Refractive errors cause blurry vision at various distances, depending on which form you have.

Fortunately, these can all be addressed through the use of contact lenses. They counteract the effects of your refractive error, acting as an exterior artificial lens for your eye. Simply put, it changes how light enters your eye so you can properly view the world around you.

Different Types of Contact Lenses

Navigating the world of contact lenses can seem confusing at first. There are many different names and terms thrown around, and it can be complicated trying to sort through it without knowing what you’re seeing!

There are two primary forms of contact lenses: hard and soft. 

Hard Contact Lenses

Hard lenses, also known as “rigid gas permeable lenses,” are durable. They’re made of a solid, stiffer material and are designed to let oxygen reach the eye properly. They often correct astigmatism more effectively, and are long-lasting and reliable. Although, they can take some time to get used to.

Soft Contact Lenses

On the other hand, the soft lenses are made from a gel-like water-retaining plastic called hydrogel. These are usually more comfortable and easier to adapt to than harder materials. Soft contact lenses typically need to be replaced daily, weekly, or monthly, depending on what type of lens you’re using.

Contact Lenses for Eye Conditions

The differences between contact lenses can go much further than just how rigid they are. Material isn’t the only thing that matters—shape and function matter as well.

There are specialty contact lenses designed for specific eye conditions. These aim to give you better comfort and vision than standard lenses—especially if you have a more uncommon or severe eye condition. These specialty lenses include:

  • Toric Lenses: Specifically designed to correct astigmatism, these lenses have different optical power and focal lengths in two orientations perpendicular to each other. They’re designed for people experiencing blurred or distorted vision due to the shape of their cornea.
  • Multifocal Lenses: These have different powers spread across different zones of the lenses, allowing clear vision at all distances. They’re designed to counteract presbyopia.
  • Scleral Lenses: These are larger than typical lenses and rest on the whites of your eyes (the sclera). These specialty lenses create a tear reservoir over the cornea, making them ideal for people with dry eye syndrome or irregularly shaped corneas.
  • Monovision Lenses: This is where one eye is corrected for distance vision while the other is corrected for close vision. Monovision lenses are ideal for presbyopia.
  • Hybrid Lenses: These lenses offer the reliability of a harder lens with the comfort of a soft lens. These are often used for keratoconus, a condition where the cornea changes shape to become more cone-like, or high levels of astigmatism.

Contact Lenses for Astigmatism

If you’re experiencing astigmatism, you might be wondering what to do. How can you tell which of the contact lenses to try?

Toric Lenses

Toric lenses are specially designed to correct astigmatism. Unlike regular lenses, which have the same power all around, toric lenses have different powers in different meridians of the lens. They have one power vertically and another horizontally, which allows them to correct the uneven curvature causing the astigmatism.

Scleral Lenses

Scleral lenses are another ideal option. Instead of resting on the cornea, they arch over it, which can help refract light properly without the rays being affected by an unusual shape.

However, before making any decision, you should schedule a contact lens fitting with your optometrist.

What to Expect at a Contact Lens Fitting

Unfortunately, contact lenses aren’t a one-size-fits-all kind of situation. Every person’s eyes are different, so they need precisely-measured contacts to fix their unique refractive error.

This is why contact lens fittings exist. Your Optometrist takes the time to precisely measure the shape and size of your eyes to determine what kind of lenses can benefit your situation. They will check the health of your tear film and cornea as well, so your lenses will fit properly without irritating your eye.

Along with this, they will train you on the proper way to insert and remove your contact lenses and walk you through properly caring for your contact lenses so you can keep your eyes healthy. They will schedule a follow up contact lens check a week after your lenses are dispensed to monitor how your eyes are adapting to contact lens wear. 

A woman in an optometry clinic shaking hands with a male optometrist.

Where to Get Contact Lenses

If you’re thinking about trying contact lenses—or need to replace an existing pair—come visit us at Headwaters Optometry. We’re here to help you find the perfect pair of contacts that cater to your unique needs. We offer several options, and we can help answer any questions you have. So, why wait? Book an appointment today!

Written by Dr. Patrick J. Brodie

Dr. Patrick J. Brodie began practicing optometry in Orangeville and New Hamburg in 1985, after graduating from the University of Waterloo School of Optometry in the same year. He built a base of patients over the next 3 years, and in 1988 he joined his practice with that of Dr. Robert Orr. The partnership allowed the doctors to serve more patients from a larger area and provided the required financial support to bring the newest technologies to their practice.
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