Eye Health Central

Contact lenses the basics

New to contact lenses? Know the basics

Millions of people around the world successfully wear contact lenses, although you may not notice just how many friends and colleagues are actually wearing them.
If you are considering joining the world of contact lens wearers then there are a few things that are good to know before you take that first step.

Many potential contact lens wearers have questions they want answered, What is a contact lens made of? How do I know what lenses to wear? How do I know if I’ll get on with them? And many more.

Here I hope to answer some of the basic questions and help you on your way to ditching your glasses and becoming a confident contact lens wearer.

Let me start at the very beginning.

What exactly is a contact lens?
Contact lenses are small thin lenses that are placed directly on to your eye to correct your vision, the lens is clear but may have a “handling tint” to make them easier to see when not in the eye.

And, what are they made of?
Almost all fitting nowadays are for disposable soft contact lenses, these are made of a moisture-rich material called silicone hydrogel, the lenses are gas permeable, meaning oxygen can pass through them allowing your eyes to breath, which helps them feel fresh and keeps them healthy.

contact lenses silicone hydrogel

Why choose contact lenses?
Most people choose to wear contact lenses, because they don’t want to wear glasses, whether they are newly diagnosed as myopic (short sighted) or hypermetropic (long sighted) or have worn glasses for years and want to switch. Some people just want contact lenses for sport or weekends, and many teenagers want them to boost their confidence or alter their image.
An increasing number of people with no prescription needs chose wear coloured contact lenses, either to enhance or change their eye colour.
Whatever your reason with the wide range of lenses available there’s sure to be a lens to suit your needs.

coloured contact lenses

Once you’ve made the decision to wear contact lenses, where do you start? The first place is your optician, you’ll need an eye test, a contact lens fitting and a contact lens trial, once these are complete you can buy your contact lenses anywhere, and many people have found there are big savings to made buying contact lenses online.

Choosing an opticians
Almost every opticians practice on the high street will have an optometrist who can fit contact lenses, you can check for your nearest optometrists practice via the NHS search function or SeeAbility’s search, also ask friend, family or colleagues where they get their contact lenses.

optician optometrist sight test

How long does a contact lens fitting take?
First you will have your regular eye test which takes about 30 minutes, then the optometrist will take specialised measurements of your eye to determine the size and fit of your contact lenses - this takes approx 20 minutes.

Your Optometrist will discuss the contact lens options available to you and hopefully the prices - as these can vary considerably between daily and monthly lenses and brands. He will take into account your lifestyle and hobbies i.e do you play sport and what kinds, or do you spend a lot of time on a computer monitor. If you have any allergies like hay fever, now is the time to mention it as it may affect his decision on lens types.

Your Optometrist will then suggest a type of contact lens to trial and then insert them into your eyes for you. Don’t worry, they are very experienced and this is completely painless! You will then be asked to walk around or wait in the practice for approximately an hour before returning to the optometrist for a 20 minute checkup where he/she will check the fit, the health of your eyes and discuss comfort - you are almost there!

Before you go home the practice team will want to make sure you are confident inserting and removing your contact lenses, and teaching you how to take care of your contact lenses.

Following a demonstration of these techniques, you will be given time to practice, and depending on how quickly you pick this up will determine how long you are there, but on average we find it takes 30-60 minutes.

contact lens fitting slit lamp

So all told a contact lens fitting takes from an hour and a half to two hours, but it’s always worth checking with your optometrist how long to allow when you make the appointment.

You will be provided with either a pair of monthly lenses or several pairs of daily contact lenses to try for up to 1 week free, after that “trial” period your optician will see you again to check that you are happy with the lenses and that he/she is happy with the fitting.

It can take two or three follow-up visits to complete a contact lens fitting.

Now it’s only time and practice before you become a confident, knowledgeable contact lens wearer.

Remember you should have annual contact lens exams so your eye doctor can monitor the health of your eyes.

Author: John Dreyer Optometrist Bsc(Hons), MCOPTOM, DipCLP
Created: 20 Nov 2018, Last modified: 4 Mar 2020