Contact lenses are lenses worn in contact with the EYE, behind the eyelids and in front of the cornea. They may be worn for cosmetic, optical or therapeutic reasons. The commonest reason for wear is cosmetic, many short-sighted people preferring to wear contact lenses instead of glasses. Optical reasons for contact-lens wear include cataract surgery (usually unilateral extraction) and the considerable improvement in overall standard of vision experienced by very short-sighted people when wearing contact lenses instead of glasses. Therapeutic lenses are those used in the treatment of eye disease: ‘bandage lenses’ are used in certain corneal diseases; contact lenses can be soaked in a particular drug and then put on the eye so that the drug slowly leaks out on to the eye. Contact lenses may be hard, soft or gas permeable. Hard lenses are more optically accurate (because they are rigid), cheaper and more durable than soft. The main advantage of soft lenses is that they are more comfortable to wear. Gas-permeable lenses are so-called because they are more permeable to oxygen than other lenses, thus allowing more oxygen to reach the cornea.
Disposable lenses are soft lenses designed to be thrown away after a short period of continuous use; their popularity rests on the fact that they need not be cleaned. The instructions on use should be followed carefully because the risk of complications, such as corneal infection, are higher than with other types of contact lenses.
Contraindications to the use of contact lenses include a history of ATOPY, ‘dry eyes’, previous GLAUCOMA surgery and a person’s inability to cope with the management of lenses. The best way to determine whether contact lenses are suitable, however, may be to try them out. Good hygiene is essential for wearers so as to minimise the risk of infection, which may lead to a corneal abscess – a serious complication. Corneal abrasions are fairly common and, if a contact-lens wearer develops a red eye, the lens should be removed and the eye tested with ﬂuorescein dye to identify any abrasions. Appropriate treatment should be given and the lens not worn again until the abrasion or infection has cleared up.