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Contacts made of silicone hydrogel allow more oxygen to reach your eye, compared to traditional contacts. Often, people find them more comfortable than standard contacts, and your doctor might recommend them if you have struggled with contacts in the past. (Learn More)
The majority of contact lens prescriptions are for silicone hydrogels. They come in many formulas, including multifocal and bifocal options. (Learn More)
Most silicone hydrogel lenses are made for extended wear, and that can lead to infections. And even though they're designed with comfort in mind, some people find that their eyes still feel dry after using extended wear products. (Learn More)
You can purchase contacts like this almost anywhere contacts lenses are sold. But prepare to pay a little more for these products. (Learn More)
Problems That Silicone Hydrogels Solve
Contacts can act as a barrier between the delicate cells on the exterior of your eye and the oxygen they need to survive. Some contacts also take water away from the surface of your eye, and that can leave you feeling uncomfortable at the end of the day. Silicone hydrogels were made to solve those problems.
The American Optometric Association explains that silicone hydrogels have lower water content and improved gas permeability, compared to traditional products. That means these products allow more oxygen to reach critical tissue, and they don't tend to leach fluid away from the eyes.
Experts say these products are recommended for:
- Dry eye. Genetics, medications, age, and occupations can all lead to eyes that are dryer, even without contacts.
- Allergies. Eyes tear up when exposed to allergens, and they need added oxygen to recover. Contacts can't interfere with this process.
- Beginners. Novices sometimes find traditional contacts very uncomfortable.
Your doctor may also recommend silicone hydrogels if you've tried other contacts and couldn't tolerate them.
How Will You Wear Them?
Researchers say that more than half of all the contact fittings performed involve silicone hydrogels. Chances are, if you head to the doctor and ask for contacts, you'll emerge with a prescription for these products. But you have many options during your fitting.
For example, you could have traditional contacts that have one prescription based on your eye exam. Or you could use:
- Bifocal lenses. These products have two prescriptions embedded within the same lens. Typically, one is made for distance vision (which you'd need for driving) and the other for close work (which you'd use for reading).
- Multifocal lenses. These lenses have two or more prescriptions within them. As VSP explains, all bifocal lenses are multifocal lenses. But not all multifocal products are bifocals.
Your doctor can help you understand your options and make the choice that's right for your eyes, your prescription, and your lifestyle.
Complications Are Possible
Contacts are medical devices, and they must be used properly to reduce the risk of complications. And unfortunately, some risk is inherent in all products like this. But the more you know, the better you can protect your eyes.
Researchers say that about half of all silicone hydrogel prescriptions are for extended wear. This means people wear them for about 30 days continuously. Products like this can be dangerous, as infections can brew in the space between the contact and your eye.
Modern hydrogel products don't stick closely to the surface of your cornea, so they come with less infection risk than their older cousins. But leaving these devices on your eyes for long periods of time still comes with a risk of infection.
Some people complain that their eyes feel dry, even when they're wearing silicone hydrogel products. Researchers say about half of the people that say contacts are uncomfortable attribute the issue to dryness. For some, the problem grows so severe that they just can't tolerate contacts anymore.
Other researchers say that these products can cause:
- Inflammation. Your cornea may swell or thicken due to extended use.
- Sore eyelids. The tissue that protects your eye with each blink can swell due to interactions with silica.
- Deposits. Some people experience fatty deposits on their eyes due to contact use.
Careful maintenance can help you avoid some of these issues. Wash your hands carefully before touching your eyes, and always clean your contacts via a schedule and procedure outlined by your doctor.
Contact lens wearers should also see their eye doctors regularly to ensure that their eyes are as healthy as possible. A yearly exam is enough for most people, but your doctor may want to see you more often if you've struggled with eye health in the past.
Where Can You Buy Them?
Silicone hydrogels dominate the contact lens market, and any retailer that sells contacts likely has a few of these products available. But be aware that the cost can differ.
Silicone hydrogels are more sophisticated than standard contacts, and they come with a higher price point. If you must replace your contacts often due to comfort issues, your cost could rise yet higher.
If these products aren't right for you, plenty of options exist. You could choose a gas permeable or rigid contact instead. Or you could opt for glasses. Surgery can also be an option if you want a more permanent solution to vision problems.
Your doctor can help you understand all of the options open to you.
Silicone Hydrogel. Uniqso.
Myth 1: Daily Disposable Silicone Hydrogels—Necessary or Not? (December 2018). Contact Lens Update.
How Do Bifocal and Multifocal Contact Lenses Work? (November 2015). VSP.
Issues and Misconceptions About Silicone Hydrogel Extended Wear. (February 2002). Silicone Hydrogels.
Eyelids and Contact Lens Discomfort. (February 2019). Contact Lens Update.
The Evolution of Silicone Hydrogel Dailies. (January 2018). Optician.
Contact Lens Materials: A Materials Science Perspective. (January 2019). Materials.