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One of the most popular types of contact lenses sold in America today are hydrogel, specifically silicone hydrogel, contacts.(Learn More) Hydrogel and silicone hydrogel contacts start out hard when they are dry, and they become soft when they get wet since they absorb water.(Learn More) They are flexible, can be worn for extended periods of time, and let in high levels of oxygen, which helps to prevent dry eye. (Learn More) Silicone hydrogel contacts can be more expensive than traditional soft contact lenses. There are several different types available. (Learn More) Talk to your eye doctor to see if hydrogel contacts are the best option for you. (Learn More)
History of Hydrogel Contacts
The advent of "water-loving" or hydrogel contacts came in the late 1950s. They were some of the first lenses that were made of soft materials instead of rigid and hard plastic.
Hydrogel contacts advanced to silicone hydrogel (SiH) in 1999, and by 2009, they accounted for two-thirds of all contact lenses sold in the United States. In 2014, the number of silicone hydrogel contacts distributed in the U.S. jumped to 70 percent of all contact lenses fitted.
These contacts have quickly become one of the first choices for many Americans.
Hydrogel Contacts Explained
Both silicone and traditional hydrogel contacts are made up of plastic materials. They are hard when dry but designed to absorb water when they get wet, leaving them pliable, flexible, and soft when soaked in contact lens solution before going in your eye. They are made up of gel-like plastic material that contains water.
Hydrogel contact lenses are typically fairly thin and fit onto the front of your eye on top of the cornea to correct a variety of refractive errors.
- Myopia (nearsightedness)
- Hyperopia (farsightedness)
- Astigmatism (corneas that are irregularly shaped)
- Presbyopia (age-related nearsightedness)
The FDA publishes that silicone hydrogel contacts are some of the newest types of soft contact materials.
Benefits of Hydrogel Contacts
Soft hydrogel contact lenses are typically more comfortable to wear than rigid, or hard, lenses, as they are more flexible and move and bend with your eyes.
One of the major issues with contact lens wear is dry eyes. This happens because the lenses block oxygen from reaching the eye as easily. Silicone hydrogel lenses let around five times as much oxygen pass through them and into the eyes, enhancing the flow and helping to reduce dry eyes related to contact lens wear. Hydrogel contacts can be a great option if you are prone to mydriasis (dry eyes).
Hypoxia is a common condition related to contact lens wear as well. It occurs when insufficient oxygen reaches the eye. It can lead to eye infections, especially in contacts that are worn for an extended period of time. Silicon hydrogel contacts may decrease the risk for this.
If you need specialty contact lenses, silicon hydrogel lenses can be a good option since they can be custom fit, are designed to work for irregularly shaped or hard-to-fit eyes, and can be made as bifocals.
Silicon hydrogel contacts may last longer than traditional soft contact lenses due to their durability. This means they may be worn for longer.
Most contacts are not designed for overnight use. While many can be reused, they will still need to be taken out and cleaned every night before replacing them in the morning. Be sure to follow all instructions on contact lens wear to minimize potential issues.
Cost Breakdown and Types
There is a lot of variation in hydrogel and silicon hydrogel contact lenses, which can influence cost. Hydrogel contacts may be designed for daily use and be disposable, which can make them cost more as you will need more of them more often.
Silicon hydrogel contacts can be worn for longer and often can be found in lenses that need to be changed every two weeks or once a month (monthly). These are called extended-wear contacts. They may cost more upfront, but since they are worn for longer, the cost may actually be less in the long run.
Choosing Contact Type
Hydrogel and silicone hydrogel contact lenses may not be suited for everyone, as eyes are individual and fit is personal. They may seem more noticeable and take some time to adjust to.
Silicone hydrogel contacts may collect more bacteria than regular hydrogel or soft contact lenses. Contact lens solution may not clean them as thoroughly as necessary.
Wearing your contacts for longer than recommended can increase the possible risk factors. It is important to closely follow all instructions on wear, cleaning, and disposing of your contacts.
Your eye doctor is the ultimate resource when deciding whether hydrogel or silicon hydrogel contacts will be a good fit for you. They can fit you for these contacts during a contact lens exam, consultation, and fitting.
When Were Contact Lenses Invented? (August 2017). All About Vision.
Some Facts About SiHy Lenses. (July 2010). Review of Optometry.
Silicone Hydrogel Contact Lenses. (September 2016). All About Vision.
Types of Contact Lenses. (January 2018). U.S. Food and Drug Administration.