Multifocal contacts are designed to correct multiple vision problems simultaneously. One of their most common use cases is the correction of myopia (nearsightedness) in tandem with presbyopia, which is age-related farsightedness caused by a decline in the elasticity of the eye. Astigmatism is also often corrected with multifocal contacts.
As a contact lens wearer, you may choose multifocal lenses that are either hard or soft. Hard contacts – i.e., rigid gas permeable (RGP) lenses – were traditionally the go-to multifocal option (in the form of bifocal contacts) if you had astigmatism. However, toric multifocal lenses now enable the treatment of astigmatism using soft contacts with specialized shapes, too.
Should you wear multifocals? Let’s focus on the main reasons why they might be a good fit, and how they compare to traditional single-vision contacts.
What is the Purpose of Wearing Multifocal Contacts?
Refractive errors are the most common type of vision problem. This category includes myopia in addition to presbyopia and hyperopia, the latter being farsightedness unrelated to the natural aging process.
If you have more than one of these conditions, then multifocal contacts may be the right solution, as each multifocal lens contains multiple prescriptions within it. For example, your lenses might correct for both presbyopia and astigmatism, allowing you to see objects more clearly up close while also eliminating the blurriness that is a hallmark of astigmatism.
Bifocal lenses, which contain two prescriptions, are a subset of multifocal lenses. Although bifocal RGP contacts were the earliest widely used multifocals, contact lens technology has since evolved to enable lenses that not only feature more than two prescriptions or powers (e.g., to treat presbyopia, myopia, and astigmatism all at once), but also have designs that don’t require abrupt transitions between the different areas.
What are the Types of Multifocal Contacts?
There are three main designs for multifocal lenses. They differ in how they integrate the multiple powers into each lens.
A segmented multifocal contact has sharply delineated areas for its different prescriptions. Its upper section may be designed for seeing faraway objects, while its lower part is dedicated to nearer vision and is also flattened at the bottom to keep it from rotating on the eye. This is the design most often referred to as “bifocal contacts,” as the lenses closely resemble bifocal glasses. The segmented design is only available with RGP lenses.
As the name reveals, concentric multifocals have multiple rings, each with its own power. Where the distance and near powers are located varies depending on the lens material (RGP or soft) and whether the lens accounts for dominant and non-dominant eyes. A soft multifocal lens might feature the near power in the center and then have alternating rings of distant and near prescriptions as it goes out, whereas an RGP lens may reverse this layout. The concentric design has become the most common one for multifocal lenses.
These lenses are similar to progressive eyeglasses, in that they feature a gradual transition between near and far powers across their surfaces; there are no clear lines marking off where one power stops and the other begins. As your eye rotates, it should eventually find the right areas within the aspheric multifocal lens to get the sharpest image of the current objects being viewed. Toric lenses, which are special types of soft contact lenses designed to treat astigmatism, have aspheric designs that may include multifocal prescriptions.
Aspheric and concentric lenses are collectively known as simultaneous vision contacts, since the eye has access to multiple powers at the same time instead of needing to actively move to a certain region, as with segmented RGP lenses. But no matter the specific design type of a multifocal lens, the purpose is the same: to treat more than one vision condition present in the eye.
As with contacts in general, soft hydrogels or silicone hydrogels (aka SiHy) have become the most popular materials out of which to manufacture contact lenses, although RGP variants are still important. Some lenses also have hybrid designs, which involve a central region made from hard gas-permeable plastic and a periphery made from soft SiHy. The hybrid design is meant to combine the crisper vision of an RGP lens with the comfort and quick adaption of a soft one.
The same advantages of RGP and soft lenses that apply to single-vision lenses also apply to multifocal contacts. RGP lenses are the best for overall clarity and durability, but can require more prolonged adjustment periods and cause greater discomfort. Soft lenses enable quicker adaptation and comfort, but need more frequent replacement and may offer less clear and consistent vision than RGPs.
The Pros and Cons of Multifocals Versus Single-Vision Contacts
If you have multiple eye prescriptions, multifocals are just one corrective option. Alternatives include pairing single-vision lenses with glasses, or having eye surgery in some cases.
Let’s say that multifocals might be a suitable option for your situation. Here are some pros and cons of these lenses, in terms of how they compare to single-vision alternatives:
- All-in-one solution for multiple refractive errors.
- Can correct astigmatism in a design that also targets myopia and/or presbyopia.
- Reduces or eliminates the need for additional eyewear like bifocal glasses.
- Generally easy to adapt to.
- Available in multiple shapes and materials.
- Provides improved depth perception and peripheral vision.
- More expensive than single-vision lenses.
- Requires a special fitting process.
- May reduce contrast or cause other visual inconsistencies.
- Can adversely affect night vision.
- In segmented designs, the pupil must focus through a small, specific part of the lens.
- Depending on your prescription, you may still need glasses in some instances.
As you weigh these considerations, make sure to consult with your eye care professional to find the best way forward. We can also help through our online exam process and wide selection of multifocal lenses. Visit the 1800 Contactshome page today to get started!