Contact lenses have come a long way, from the earliest glass (yes I said GLASS) and rigid gas permeable (hard)–to the silicone hydrogel (soft) contact lenses many of us wear today. Contact lens technology is continually changing (although not nearly as fast as the iPhones do). The cleaning and disinfection of these types of lenses has also evolved over the years. Gone are the days of placing your contact lenses into a thermal disinfection apparatus. If you were born after 1990 you probably had no idea this even existed. Back when the only “disposables” meant one pair of soft contact lenses were intended to be worn for a year, thermal disinfection–heating the bacteria to death–was the best option. Then came chemical disinfection–canisters with solutions and tablets and drops (Oh my!) to disinfect and also remove protein build-up. Fast forward to more recent years, in which the era of “multi-purpose” solutions have taken hold–one bottle that does it all (disinfects, removes protein, and moisturizes). Disinfection options for sensitive eyes that use a specific hydrogen peroxide solution/canister are a great way to clean lenses without irritating ingredients such as surfactants (soap-like chemicals) and of course preservatives.
Whew! That’s a lot to keep up with, right? Now imagine a world in which contact lens solutions are a thing of the past. Enter the daily disposable contact lens.
It is important to note that daily disposables, aka “dailies”, may not be for every patient. This includes patients with higher amounts of astigmatism, irregular corneas and conditions such as keratoconus (a progressive disorder in which the cornea becomes “cone” shaped), and higher amounts of nearsightedness (myopia) or farsightedness (hyperopia). However, contact lens companies have been working to steadily increase the parameters which the dailies are available (and still keep it affordable) to help reach those with low to moderate astigmatism, and dailies are now available in a multifocal lens design for those who need bifocals. The best way to know if you are a candidate is to ask your optometrist. A trial fitting is a great way to know if you will be happy with the lenses prior to purchasing them.
Here are six reasons to consider making the switch to dailies:
1. OCULAR HEALTH
This should be your optometrist’s first and most important reason. Contact lenses are porous–in order to allow adequate oxygen through the material and to the non-vascular cornea. The older a contact lens gets, the less breathable it becomes, either from debris, protein, lipid, or mucus build-up. Environmental toxins can also adhere to the lens and clog those pores and irritate the eye. Think about people in industries such as chemical plants, hair dressers, those who work around cigarette smoke, and firefighters. Because the cornea receives most of its oxygen from the oxygen in the air around us, a “dirty/old” contact will in essence suffocate the corneal tissue. The most common (but not only) negative effect from the lack of oxygen to the cornea is a corneal ulcer. Corneal ulcers can cause permanent blindness and are extremely painful. Dailies lens wearers are at much lower risk of complications than those that wear monthly or extended wear lenses.
Less handling also means they are more sanitary. Open a sterile lens, place lens into eye, take the lens out and throw away after a day of wear (all of this with properly washed hands of course). The lens never gets placed in a case. Contact lens cases, if not properly cleaned and cared for, can house icky bacteria that you for sure don’t want anywhere near your eye.
Not all daily contact lenses are created equal. There are brands of lenses on the market that are offered at a very inexpensive price point, yet are made of a material that is outdated – over 20 years old and let NO oxygen through to the cornea. It is crucial for your eye health to have a recommendation of brand by your optometrist.
2. INCREASED COMFORT/LESS DRYNESS
Contacts are comprised of a polymer-water combination. The water content plays a major role in the comfort level. They are designed to be so comfortable that you don’t even know you are wearing them. They are thinner than monthlies- but don’t worry- this doesn’t mean they are any more likely to tear. A daily lens doesn’t endure the day in and day out handling that a monthly does. Plus, if you feel the need to change a monthly lens in 2 weeks due to dryness, its cost effectively is dramatically decreased. Ask any monthly wearer- you will probably run out of contacts for one eye well before the other. Even IF something happens and you need to take out your daily lens midday and put another one in – the cost per lens is much less than a monthly, plus you have a larger inventory on hand.
If you are like me, you can never remember when it’s time to change your contacts. You’ve tried calendars, phone alarms, all of it. Still, those 30 days go by quickly for a monthly lens wearer. What may end up happening is that you forget to change them until you realize it’s been 2 months. EEK! See reason number 1 (old lenses = problems). Not having to remember to keep your disinfection solution stocked, not having to take the time to rub/store the lenses–in our increasingly busy schedules, we could all benefit from keeping things as simple as possible.
How about travel? Not having to worry about packing a bottle of solution and a case, and only needing to throw a handful of contacts into your bag can be very freeing. The contact lens packs are very flat and take up very little room. If you like flying with a carry-on only, you don’t have to rush to the store to buy that not-so-cost-effective 3 oz bottle of contact solution.
Consider this: You wear glasses. You love your glasses. But wouldn’t it be nice to wear a pair of contacts for date night? A ball game? For workouts? Out on the boat so you can wear those awesome sunglasses?
Or this: You wear monthlies. You are perfectly content with them, EXCEPT during allergy season. During that time you can’t imagine putting in the same pollen covered lens more than once.
Or this: You wear monthlies, but only occasionally. If you wear a monthly lens once –and it sits in the case for a month–only for you to discover it has dried out, (and it’s your last one) it can be extremely disappointing.
Committing to dailies doesn’t mean buying 365 days’ worth of them. Retail packages of dailies are available in as little as 30 lenses per box. I have several patients that wear dailies part-time, and they love it–just simply having the option.
5. BEST OPTION FOR YOUNG NEW WEARERS
Your child wants contacts. You know he/she is mature enough to handle it, but it’s a lot to think about when you have to wonder if they are taking the time to clean their lenses and change them responsibly. Many young contact lens wearers are extremely responsible; however, it takes a lot of stress off of a parent when you don’t have to worry. You can rest easy knowing that at the end of each day, the lenses get thrown away. Each day will be a sterile, clean pair of contacts.
Contacts are medical devices–they do go into our eyes, after all. Improper use and over-wear just lead to a plethora of unwanted problems, and we want don’t mess around with our vision.
6. THEY COST LESS THAN YOU THINK
After I discuss dailies with a patient, the most common question I get is, “but aren’t they expensive?”. Not necessarily. The cost of dailies has come down considerably since they first entered the market. Contact lens manufacturers offer rebates for annual supplies of dailies that are the highest they’ve ever been ($200 for some). This is on top of what insurance covers if you have a vision plan. Without insurance, a year supply of dailies will start around $1.50 per day. There are also considerable savings averaging about $80 a year when you factor in not having to buy contact lens solution.
I could talk about how much a Starbucks coffee or iPhone cost us, but we all know how expensive things are getting. Just remember that when it comes to our health – in particular our vision – cheaper may not always be the best option in the long run. (This doesn’t mean if someone chooses not to wear dailies that they are not choosing to being healthy, or not making the best choice.)
For contact lens wearers, there are many options out there. As an optometrist, it is my job to make sure I keep patients informed of all them, including pros AND cons. This is all to help decide what will be the best all-around fit for each individual patient’s needs. For some, a daily disposable contact lens may be exactly what is needed when you consider either the lack of success with other options, or simply a desire to streamline routines and make things more convenient. For others, their unique prescriptions will inhibit them from this option at least for the near future. The bottom line is this: don’t be afraid to ask your eye doctor about your options. Write down questions before your appointment if needed. We are a team when it comes to your ocular health and vision needs–and even though the technology continues to change–you can sure bet that never will.