Disposable contact lenses help to reduce build-up of bacteria, dirt, and pollen to provide a fresh, clean lens with every replacement. The fresher and cleaner your contacts are, the more comfortable your eyes will be.
All of the various types of contact lenses have a few things in common. Modern lens materials are safe, non-toxic and oxygen-permeable. Lenses are now available to treat most vision problems. They also share some of the same disadvantages. Most contact lenses need to be cleaned regularly with a special solution. All contacts must be handled carefully, and all require a prescription. The main difference between contact lens types is how frequently they must be replaced. They all have a limited lifespan and must be replaced on the schedule prescribed by your eye doctor.
Traditional contact lenses last for six months to one year before they need to be replaced, and they require daily cleaning and maintenance to prevent build-up of proteins and lipids. These lenses are generally too expensive to be thrown out, meaning that wearers will often put up with scratches, wear, and build-up, trying to get the most use out of them. These types of lenses are rarely prescribed today because the health benefits and affordability of disposable lenses have made them essentially obsolete.
Disposable contacts have a shorter lifespan, but they generally require much less care and are affordable enough to be replaced frequently. All disposable contact lenses are designed to be worn for a limited time, making them much more convenient, since they only need minimal cleaning and disinfection. The lifespan of a disposable lens is specific to the particular lens design and material. Disposable lenses are currently available in daily disposable, weekly disposable, two-week disposable and monthly disposable modalities. Disposable lenses are also available in both daily wear and extended wear.
The term “daily wear” means that the lenses are designed to be worn only during waking hours, and should not be slept in. Don’t confuse this with the term “daily disposable contact lenses” which are lenses that are designed to be worn only once and disposed of after a single day of wearing. Daily disposable lenses are the most convenient and healthy type of lens. A fresh pair every day guarantees that there is no build-up of proteins, lipids or allergens. They also don’t require the extra purchase of cleaning supplies and cases. Daily disposable lenses are highly recommended for children and teens, which may not be vigilant about cleaning their contacts and can be susceptible to eye infections. Single-use contacts are also an excellent choice for allergy sufferers who find that non-daily disposable contacts collect dust and pollen that irritates their eyes.
The term “extended-wear” refers to lenses that are designed with a higher oxygen transmission to make them safer to be worn overnight than daily wear lenses. While these are a great option for convenience, there are downsides to wearing contacts overnight. Sleeping in lenses reduces the amount of oxygen to the eye and always increases the risk of complications. Even well-maintained extended wear lenses can collect build-up, which can contribute to eye irritation and possible infection.
When choosing disposable lenses, consider your lifestyle. If you tend to be forgetful, suffer from allergies, or just want the cleanest, freshest contacts possible, you’ll probably be interested in single-use daily disposable contact lenses. If you don’t mind taking the lenses out every night and giving them a quick cleaning, you may want to consider a two-week or monthly disposable lens. If you want the convenience of being able to sleep in lenses, be sure that you talk to your eye doctor about extended wear lenses that are specifically designed for overnight wear.
This is a question best discussed with your eye doctor. Certain eye conditions are incompatible with disposable lenses. However, if you currently wear contacts, switching to disposables is usually an easy transition. Disposable contacts are available to correct most vision problems such as nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism, and they are also available in cosmetically tinted, UV protected, bifocal and trifocal types.
If you’ve never worn disposable lenses before, you’ll need to have an eye exam and fitting before ordering, just as you would for any contact lens prescription. Your doctor should go over your lens options with you and help you determine which disposable contact lens type will best meet your needs. If you plan to purchase disposable contacts online, ask the doctor beforehand if they’ll prescribe a national brand, and to provide you with a written copy of your contact lens prescription. Contact lens prescriptions are brand-specific, so having your written prescription will make it easier to refill your contacts later.
For some people, cost may be a factor in choosing a type of vision correction. Various factors may influence the cost of different types of contacts. Before deciding, look into what your insurance provider will cover. Other things to consider, cost-wise, are how often the contacts will need to be replaced, shipping costs, and whether you’ll have to purchase separate cleaning and storage products. Don’t be afraid to shop around; some vendors may offer better rates if you purchase a year’s worth of disposable lenses at a time, while others may offer coupons or rebates. Disposable contact lenses are comfortable, convenient, healthy and affordable; it’s worth doing a little research to find out if they’re right for you.
We’re all concerned with the long-term consequences of throw-away products. You may be asking what the environmental impact of disposable lenses is, and that’s a reasonable question. Scientists are currently working to develop a soy-based biodegradable contact lens, but that technology is still quite a few years away. In the meantime, a year’s worth of daily disposable lenses—730 individual lenses—produces only 9.125 grams of waste plastic. That’s a little less than two credit cards’ worth. Disposed of properly, the environmental effects are minimal. While still a legitimate concern, it may well be out-weighed by the positive health benefits that disposable contacts provide.
Updated Jun 24th, 2014
Clay Mattson, O.D. has been practicing optometry at EyeMax in Nicholasville and Lexington, KY since 2000. Dr. Mattson also serves as a consultant, lecturer, author and advisor to the eye care industry and to other eye doctors.