Contact lenses have been around for many decades. In the beginning, they were used primarily by athletes that normally needed eyeglasses to correct their vision. In rough sporting activities, conventional eyeglass frames had and still have a tendency to break. Today, this has been resolved by the development of sports glasses made with heavy-duty polycarbonate lenses that meet OSHA safety standards, but back in the day, contacts were the lenses of choice.
Since the lens is placed directly onto the cornea, even the roughest contact in a sporting event, such as a quarterback or running back being hit and tackled by a defensive lineman in a game of American football, the adhesion is so tightly formed by the natural fluids that make tears, it becomes very difficult for these lenses to get dislodged from one’s eyes.
Back in the 1920s, when contact lenses first became available, the eyeglasses of the day were quite flimsy and to make matters worse, the lenses were made of glass, so even if the entire pair of glasses didn’t go flying away following such a hit, chances were good that the lenses would shatter.
Today, of course, contact lenses are worn primarily by those who are self-conscious about the way they look in eyeglasses. In addition, custom contact lenses with no visual corection are worn by those who wish to change the color of their eyes or simply to look frightening on Halloween. Shock-rock performers such as Marilyn Manson also wear custom contact lenses as a part of their act.
So what are some of the advantages and disadvantages of contact lenses?
As mentioned, most people needing visual correction can wear them, and so if they are vain about their appearance, contacts provide the easiest way to avoid covering a significant portion of their faces with eyeglasses. Some people have very attractive eyes, and glasses detract from that feature. Also, eyeglasses tend to make people look older, so contacts can take years off one’s appearance.
There was once a time when contact lenses wouldn’t work for people with a significant amount of astigmatism. Basically, this condition results from having an eyeball that is not spherical in shape. While most nearsighted and farsighted individuals will have a very slight amount of astigmatism, some people’s eyes are so misshaped that their corrective lenses must be rigidly placed in one position and never move. If they get turned by even the tiniest degree, their vision becomes distorted. Most contacts are still designed for spherical eyes, but today, special contact lenses that are weighted in one specific location keep them from rotating on the eye. Similarly, bifocal contact lenses are now available as well. If you were to go back about 40 years, this wasn’t the case.
Contact lenses were once very expensive, but as more people than ever wear them today, the price has come down significantly. Oftentimes, they are now less expensive than eyeglasses! Many eyecare professionals recommend disposable contacts that typically come in packages of 6-12 for each eye. One lens for each eye is worn for a month, then thrown away. If you have a normal corrective prescription, these boxes generally cost about $50.00 each, so for about $100.00, 2 boxes containing 6 each will last a year.
Add cleaning solution, which can be found at any Wal Mart, and it costs about $150.00 a year to wear contacts. Many eyeglass frames by themselves cost this much and even more. Once the lenses are added, a pair of conventional glasses can easily cost $300.00-$400.00. There are eyeglasses that are considerably cheaper, but generally, they either resemble the geeky horn-rimmed spectacles that went out of style 50 years ago or they’re manufactured with inferior materials.
Contact lenses require more maintenance than eyeglasses. They must be cleaned and disinfected after every use, and this is time-consuming. If you are unwilling or in too much of a hurry to comply with these procedures, contact lenses probably aren’t for you. To put it another way, it’s a lot faster and easier to slap on a pair of eyeglasses. Contacts are also easier to lose, especially if one is accidentally dropped. Even regular contact lens wearers should have a pair of glasses to fall back on in case that happens, or at the very least, to start their day until that coffee kicks in.
Since contact lenses are placed directly on the eye, this dramatically increases the risks for infections and corneal damage. Improperly-maintained lenses are usually to blame, but some people are just not made for them. In the case of some individuals, it doesn’t matter what type of contact lens they wear, for they can all irritate the eyes in a matter of a few hours. Putting up with bloodshot eyes that feel like a cinder has been placed upon them is not worth it. In fact, some people (such as the author to this article) develop neovascularization of the cornea and are advised to give up the idea of contact lenses permanently.
As people get older, some can no longer wear contact lenses. Once a person reaches middle age, the eyes produce less tears, and many find that the amount of time they can stand having contacts in their eyes is getting shorter and shorter. In addition, close-up vision for reading diminishes, so long-term contact lens wearers are faced with a dilemma. They will either have to wear reading glasses over their contacts, switch to bifocal contacts, switch to “mono-vision,” where one contact is used for distance vision while the other is used for close-up vision, or give up contacts altogether and go with multifocal eyeglasses. The last of these choices is frankly the easiest option.
Finally, if you spend a lot of time outdoors in bright sunlight, you will likely want sunglasses, so why not just get a prescription pair in the first place?
Some people are die-hards and will wear contact lenses well into old age like Ronald Reagan. Others? They will shed the vanity and simply return to eyeglasses. In the end, it’s either a matter of preference or necessity.