Contact Lens Types Explained
Contact lenses are classified in many different manners and are explained below.
Contact Lens Types By Function
Corrective Contact Lenses
A corrective contact lens is a lens designed to improve vision. In many people, there is a mismatch between the
refractive power of the eye and the length of the eye, leading to a refraction error. A contact lens neutralizes
this mismatch and allows for correct focusing of light onto the retina. Conditions correctable with contact lenses
include near (or short) sightedness (myopia), far (or long) sightedness (hypermetropia), astigmatism and
presbyopia. Recently there has been renewed interest in orthokeratology, the correction of myopia by deliberate
overnight flattening of the cornea, leaving the eye without contact lens or eyeglasses correction during the day.
Contact wearers must usually take their contacts out every night or every few days, depending on the brand and
style of the contact. However, many choose to leave these contacts in for longer periods of time than as
prescribed. While this has no effect on the wearer in the short term, if the contact is left in for months at a
time, eye infections and other eye problems have been reported, especially with old-fashioned "hard" contact lens
models. A contact wearer may leave soft, daytime use contacts in for a week with no adverse affects, however.
For those with certain color deficiencies, a red-tinted "X-Chrom" contact lens may be used. Although the lens
does not restore normal color vision, it allows some colorblind individuals to distinguish colors better.
ChromaGen lenses have been used and these have been shown to have some limitations with vision at night although
otherwise producing significant improvements in colour vision. An earlier study showed very significant
improvements in colour vision and patient satisfaction.
Later work that used these ChromaGen lenses with dyslexics in a randomised, double-blind, placebo controlled
trial showed highly significant improvements in reading ability over reading without the lenses. This system has
been granted FDA approval in the United States, which is reassuring to patients, and so its scientific approach has
been correctly validated.
Cosmetic Contact Lenses
A cosmetic contact lens is designed to change the appearance of the eye. These lenses may also correct the vision,
but some blurring or obstruction of vision may occur as a result of the color or design. In the United States, the
FDA frequently calls non-corrective cosmetic contact lenses decorative contact lenses.
Theatrical contact lenses are a type of cosmetic contact lens that are used primarily in the entertainment
industry to make the eye appear pleasing, unusual or unnatural in appearance, most often in horror and zombie
movies, where lenses can make one's eyes appear demonic, cloudy and lifeless, or even to make the pupils of the
wearer appear dilated to simulate the natural appearance of the pupils under the influence of various illicit
drugs. These lenses have been used by Wes Borland, Richard Z. Kruspe, Val Kilmer, Marilyn Manson, Twiztid, Dani
Filth, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) wrestlers Kane, Rey Mysterio and Viscera, Ray Park as Darth Maul and Ian
McDiarmid as Darth Sidious in Star Wars, Vin Diesel as Riddick in Pitch Black, and Dark Funeral vocalist Emperor
Magus Caligula. Orlando Bloom wore blue cosmetic contact lenses for his role as the elf-prince Legolas Greenleaf in
The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Recently, contact lenses using patterns of tomoe to simulate the Sharingan have
become popular with fans of the anime Naruto.
Scleral lenses cover the white part of the eye (i.e. sclera) and are used in many theatrical lenses. Due to
their size, these lenses are difficult to insert and do not move very well within the eye. They may also hamper the
vision as the lens has a small area for the user to see through. As a result they generally cannot be worn for more
than 3 hours as they can cause temporary vision disturbances.
Similar lenses have more direct medical applications. For example, some lenses can give the iris an enlarged
appearance, or mask defects such as absence (aniridia) or damage (dyscoria) to the iris.
Although many brands of contact lenses are lightly tinted to make them easier to handle, cosmetic lenses worn to
change the color of the eye are far less common, accounting for only 3% of contact lens fits in 2004.
Therapeutic Contact Lenses
Soft lenses are often used in the treatment and management of non-refractive disorders of the eye. A bandage
contact lens protects an injured or diseased cornea from the constant rubbing of blinking eyelids thereby allowing
it to heal. They are used in the treatment of conditions including bullous keratopathy, dry eyes, corneal ulcers
and erosion, keratitis, corneal edema, descemetocele, corneal ectasis, Mooren's ulcer, anterior corneal dystrophy,
and neurotrophic keratoconjunctivitis. Contact lenses to deliver drugs to the eye have also been developed.
Contact Lens Types By Constructional Material
Contact lenses, once inserted in the eye, become almost invisible (except cosmetic contact lenses).The first
contact lenses were made of glass, which caused eye irritation, and were not wearable for extended periods of time.
But when William Feinbloom introduced lenses made from polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA or Perspex/Plexiglas),
contacts became much more convenient. These PMMA lenses are commonly referred to as "hard" lenses (this term is not
used for other types of contacts).
However, PMMA lenses have their own side effects: no oxygen is transmitted through the lens to the cornea, which
can cause a number of adverse clinical events. In the late 1970s, and through the 1980s and 1990s, improved rigid
materials — which were also oxygen-permeable — were developed. Collectively, these polymers are referred to as
rigid gas permeable or 'RGP' materials or lenses.
Rigid lenses offer a number of unique properties. In effect, the lens is able to replace the natural shape of
the cornea with a new refracting surface. This means that a regular (spherical) rigid contact lens can provide good
level of vision in people who have astigmatism or distorted corneal shapes as with keratoconus.
While rigid lenses have been around for about 120 years, soft lenses are a much more recent development. The
principal breakthrough in soft lenses made by Otto Wichterle led to the launch of the first soft (hydrogel) lenses
in some countries in the 1960s and the approval of the 'Soflens' material (polymacon) by the United States FDA in
1971. Soft lenses are immediately comfortable, while rigid lenses require a period of adaptation before full
comfort is achieved. The polymers from which soft lenses are manufactured improved over the next 25 years,
primarily in terms of increasing the oxygen permeability by varying the ingredients making up the polymers.
A small number of hybrid rigid/soft lenses exist. An alternative technique is piggybacking of contact lenses, a
smaller, rigid lens being mounted atop a larger, soft lens. This is done for a variety of clinical situations where
a single lens will not provide the optical power, fitting characteristics, or comfort required.
In 1999, 'silicone hydrogels' became available. Silicone hydrogels have both the extremely high oxygen
permeability of silicone and the comfort and clinical performance of the conventional hydrogels. These lenses were
initially advocated primarily for extended (overnight) wear, although more recently daily (no overnight) wear
silicone hydrogels have been launched.
While it provides the oxygen permeability, the silicone also makes the lens surface highly hydrophobic and less
"wettable." This frequently results in discomfort and dryness during lens wear. In order to compensate for the
hydrophobicity, hydrogels are added (hence the name "silicone hydrogels") to make the lenses more hydrophilic.
However the lens surface may still remain hydrophobic. Hence some of the lenses undergo surface modification
processes which cover the hydrophobic sites of silicone. Some other lens types incorporate internal rewetting
agents to make the lens surface hydrophilic.
By Wear Time
A daily wear contact lens is designed to be removed prior to sleeping. An extended wear (EW) contact lens is
designed for continuous overnight wear, typically for 6 or more consecutive nights. Newer materials, such as
silicone hydrogels, allow for even longer wear periods of up to 30 consecutive nights; these longer-wear lenses are
often referred to as continuous wear (CW). Generally, extended wear lenses are discarded after the specified length
of time. These are increasing in popularity, due to their obvious convenience. Extended- and continuous-wear
contact lenses can be worn for such long periods of time because of their high oxygen permeability (typically 5-6
times greater than conventional soft lenses), which allows the eye to remain remarkably healthy.
Extended lens wearers may have an increased risk for corneal infections and corneal ulcers, primarily due to
poor care and cleaning of the lenses, tear film instability, and bacterial stagnation. Corneal neovascularization
has historically also been a common complication of extended lens wear, though this does not appear to be a problem
with silicone hydrogel extended wear. The most common complication of extended lens use is conjunctivitis, usually
allergic or giant papillary conjunctivitis (GPC), sometimes associated with a poorly fitting contact lens.
By Frequency of Replacement
The various soft contact lenses available are often categorized by their replacement schedule. The shortest
replacement schedule is single use (daily disposable) lenses, which are disposed of each night. These may be best
for patients with ocular allergies or other conditions, because it limits deposits of antigens and protein. Single
use lenses are also useful for people who use contacts infrequently, or for purposes (e.g. swimming or other
sporting activities) where losing a lens is likely. More commonly, contact lenses are prescribed to be disposed of
on a two-week or monthly basis. Quarterly or annual lenses, which used to be very common, have lost favor because a
more frequent disposal schedule allows for thinner lenses and limits deposits. Rigid gas permeable lenses are very
durable and may last for several years without the need for replacement.
A spherical contact lens is one in which both the inner and outer optical surfaces are portions of a sphere. A
toric lens is one in which either or both of the optical surfaces have the effect of a cylindrical lens, usually in
combination with the effect of a spherical lens. Myopic (nearsighted) and hypermetropic (farsighted) people who
also have astigmatism and who have been told they are not suitable for regular contact lenses may be able to use
toric lenses. If one eye has astigmatism and the other does not, the patient may be told to use a spherical lens in
one eye and a toric lens in the other. Toric lenses are made from the same materials as regular contact lenses but
have a few extra characteristics:
They correct for both spherical and cylindrical aberration.
They may have a specific 'top' and 'bottom', as they are not symmetrical around their centre and must not be
rotated. Lenses must be designed to maintain their orientation regardless of eye movement. Often lenses are thicker
at the bottom and this thicker zone is pushed down by the upper eyelid during blinking to allow the lens to rotate
into the correct position (with this thicker zone at the 6 'clock position on the eye). Toric lenses are usually
marked with tiny striations to assist their fitting.
They are usually more expensive to produce than non-toric lenses; as such, they are usually meant for extended wear
and previous to 2000 when Vistakon introduced the first disposable Toric lenses, Toric lenses were not available in
Like eyeglasses, contact lenses can have one (single vision) or more (multifocal) focal points.
For correction of presbyopia or accommodative insufficiency multifocal contact lenses are almost always used;
however, single vision lenses may also be used in a process known as monovision: single vision lenses are used to
correct one eye's far vision and the other eye's near vision. Alternatively, a person may wear single vision
contact lenses to improve distance vision and reading glasses to improve near vision.
Multifocal contact lenses are more complex to manufacture and require more skill to fit. All soft bifocal
contact lenses are considered "simultaneous vision" because both far and near vision are corrected simultaneously,
regardless of the position of the eye. Commonly these are designed with distance correction in the center of the
lens and near correction in the periphery, or viceversa. Rigid gas permeable contact lenses most commonly have a
small lens on the bottom for the near correction: when the eyes are lowered to read, this lens comes into the
Intraocular contact lenses, also known as an implantable contact lenses, are special small corrective lenses
surgically implanted in the eye's posterior chamber behind the iris and in front of the lens to correct higher
amounts of myopia and hyperopia.
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