More than 600 million contact lenses were sold in the UK last year, designed to correct your vision according to lifestyle and occupation. So what lens types are available and where’s the best place to start?
Brian Tompkins, Northampton-based independent optometrist and president of the British Contact Lens Association, has clear advice. “The first step is to consult a qualified eyecare practitioner. During your initial consultation they will discuss your visual and lifestyle requirements, conduct a thorough eye examination to check your eyes and tears are healthy, and then measure the eyes to ensure the best lens type, fit and vision,” he says.
“Based on this information, they will provide you with suitable lenses to try out. They will also show you how to apply and remove the lenses in the most hygienic way, and offer important advice, such as never allowing water to come into contact with your lenses.”
Daily disposables, which come in a wide variety of materials, strengths and designs, are the number-one choice
Types of contact lenses
The most popular type is soft lens made of water-containing material. “Sometimes called hydrophilic or hydrogel contact lenses, soft lenses have a flexible structure making them very comfortable to wear,” says Mr Tompkins explains. “Mostly they are larger than less flexible rigid gas permeable lenses and cover the coloured parts of the eye, the iris and cornea.”
Soft lenses and are usually described by their replacement frequency or wearing schedule whether it be daily, two-weekly or six-monthly. Some can even be worn for up to 30 days, called extended or continuous-wear lenses.
Daily disposables, which come in a wide variety of materials, strengths and designs, are the number-one choice. Originally intended for extended wear, soft silicone hydrogel materials allow more oxygen to reach the cornea and are now used for all types of soft lenses.
Contact lenses for astigmatism (toric lenses), bifocal and multifocal lenses to correct presbyopia or age-related long sightedness are all widely available in soft materials. And if you fancy changing the colour of your eyes, then your practitioner can discuss coloured and special-effect soft lenses.
If you’re looking to try contact lenses, many practitioners will offer a free trial and, once you’ve found the best fit, may set you up on a home delivery and direct debit payment scheme that includes regular aftercare checks. The convenience of online ordering means this is also becoming popular.
Buying contacts online
Mitesh Patel, co-founder of online supplier Lenstore, which offers customers free eye examinations and aftercare appointments at high street stores, says: “Online suppliers offer the convenience of being able to order the exact same contact lenses wherever you are and on any device, and have them delivered direct to your door, sometimes the next day.”
If you do choose the mail order route, it’s important to see your qualified eyecare practitioner regularly so they can check your vision, the fit of your lenses and the health of your eyes.
“Professional advice and aftercare for contact lens wearers buying by mail order is hugely important,” says Mr Patel. “Contact lenses are medical devices and improper use, and a lack of aftercare, can lead to serious eye health issues.”
Indeed the General Optical Council is in the midst of a public consultation on a voluntary code of practice for online contact lens suppliers to improve procedures, and encourage people who buy online to have regular aftercare appointments and eye tests.