For people who need vision aids, contacts are a convenient and popular choice. But if you’ve only ever worn glasses, they can be kiiiind of intimidating.
They’re not actually that scary, though. To help demystify the process for anyone thinking about taking the plunge, BuzzFeed Health talked to New York-based optometrist Dr. Monica Nguyen and Dr. Andrea Thau, president of the American Optometric Association and spokesperson for the Think About Your Eyes Campaign. Here’s what they want you to know.
1. The exam for contact lenses is a little more complicated than the one for glasses.
So don’t expect a quick in-and-out visit. Before you can even be fitted for your contact lenses, you have to have a comprehensive eye exam, which includes not just figuring out your prescription, but also a few tests assessing the inside and outside health of your eye, says Thau.
After that, you’ll have the contact lens fitting, where the doctor will take measurements of the front of your eye and select diagnostic lenses — aka trial lenses — for you to test out.
2. You’ll also practice putting them on and taking them off — probably a lot.
“Contact lenses are medical devices and so patients need to understand that if they’re used improperly, they can lead to very severe complications,” says Thau.
Meaning, your doctor will make sure you really have a hang of how to use them before you leave, which can take an additional half hour to an hour. Sometimes they’ll take even longer, especially if you’re someone who doesn’t have experience touching around your eye — like by regularly putting on makeup.
3. You should make your first appointment at a time when you won’t be in a rush.
It could take a while to learn to put in and take out your contacts, so you’ll want to make sure you leave yourself a lot of time just to be safe. “The more rushed you are, the more stressed you’ll be, and the harder it is to learn something new,” says Thau.
4. To prepare, make sure your nails are clean, smooth, and short, and maybe skip eye makeup for the day.
Eventually you’ll be able to put on and take off your contacts no matter your preferred nail length, but when you’re first getting started, having them trimmed can be a huge help. (Not to mention it reduces the risk of accidentally scratching your cornea as you figure out WTF you’re doing.) But no matter the length, you’ll always want to make sure your nails are smooth and clean — meaning, no jagged edges and no gunk underneath, according to Thau.
As for makeup, once you have contacts, you’ll always want to put them in before any makeup and then take them out before you take your makeup off at night for cleanliness reasons. So, for your appointment, go lighter on the makeup so you don’t wind up smudging it all over and under the contact.
5. A lot of factors will determine what lenses are right for you, including your lifestyle and personal preference. So FYI, these are going to be the main options:
The most common lenses are soft lenses, which come with various lifespans. There are daily disposable lenses, which you discard after one use, and 14-day and 30-day lenses, which require cleaning with contact solution after every use. Thau says to think of the soft lenses like bedroom slippers: comfortable and easy to get used to.
Then you have rigid gas-permeable (RGP) lenses, which are physically harder and smaller in size. The harder lenses tend to give crisper vision and can last longer (up to a year or two), but are more uncomfortable initially.
There are also scleral lenses, larger lenses that cover the white of the eye and are often suggested for people with severe dry eyes or irregular corneas.
Lastly, there are toric lenses (soft, RGP, and more), which are shaped to correct astigmatism, aka when the eye is more football shaped than spherical.
6. For most people with basic contact needs, daily disposables are probably going to be the best option.
“Every day, you put in a fresh, clean pair of lenses,” says Thau. “You always have lenses with you. You’re less likely to wear a lens that’s torn. You don’t have to worry as much about keeping them clean. For most patients, the daily disposables are just a godsend.”
Daily disposables are more expensive, especially if you’re wearing them most days of the week rather than just on special occasions. However, if cost is a concern, Thau also reminds patients that with the 14- or 30-day lenses, there is an added cost of contact solution, so there might not be a huge difference in spending in the long-run.
7. Plan on at least one follow-up exam.
Basically, your doctor will want you to wear your contacts around for a week or so in order for you to really get a ~feel~ for whether you like them or not. From there, depending on whether or not they were the right fit, you might put in an order and call it a day OR your doctor might send you home with a few more brands to try.
8. Between your first appointment and your follow-up, pay attention to these signs that your contacts might not be the best fit.
You’ll probably know if a contact is the right one, because it should feel good — meaning mostly like nothing — and help you, y’know, see well. But here are some things Nguyen says you might notice:
- It feels like the contact is shifting when you blink
- You can feel the edges of the contact
- The contact gets more uncomfortable the longer you wear it
- You have difficulty seeing things close up if the contacts are for seeing far away, or vice versa
- You get headaches or eyestrain, which can indicate the prescription is too strong
- Any type of irritation (seriously, if you get any sort of burning, stinging, itching, or discomfort, take them out)
9. Don’t be discouraged if it takes you several tries to find the right pair of contacts. That’s normal.
It’s not as simple as finding a pair of glasses you like — everyone’s eyes are different, in shape, chemistry, dryness, etc. — so it’s completely normal to have several follow-ups and to try out multiple pairs until you find the one that works for you, says Thau. So trust the process and be patient, because it’ll be worth it.
10. That said, even with the perfect pair, it’ll take some time to get fully used to wearing them.
So like, you’ve probably never stuck anything in your eye before. Obviously it’s going to be a bit weird. “Most people when they’re first starting to wear contact lenses feel them a little for the first week,” says Nguyen. Of course, feeling them in an uncomfortable way isn’t good, but you should expect some general awareness that there is something in your eye.
11. You can’t sleep, shower, or swim in your contacts, so don’t try.
Your doctor will tell you this, but a lot of people will try it anyway, so it bears repeating: JUST DON’T DO IT. This also goes for other water activities (hot tubs, washing your face, whatever). Basically, water isn’t sterile enough to come in contact with something that’s going to be sitting on your eyes — because, you know, infections.
12. While we’re at it, here are some other gross mistakes lots of first-time contact users make:
Leaving your contact lens case open in the bathroom. One flush of the toilet is all it takes to send a bunch of germs flying through the air. Which, gross.
“Topping off” your solution. You need to dump out the solution you soak your contacts in and use fresh solution every time.
Using lenses for longer than they’re meant to be used. Whether they’re dailies, biweeklies, or monthlies, please just wear them for the length of time they were meant to be worn. As the CDC likes to say: contact lenses are like underwear — don’t over-wear.
Leaving your contacts anywhere else besides inside their case when they’re not in your eyes. Just don’t do it.
You can read more about bad contact habits here.
13. Before you ask, no, they’re not gonna roll to the back of your head.
It’s a totally normal thing to wonder (most people ask about that, says Nguyen), but IT’S NOT A THING, WE PROMISE! If you really can’t find your contact and have already checked around the white of your eye, it most likely fell out.
14. Practicing and experimenting with different ways to take them out and put them in is OK as long as you’re safe about it.
For example, you might find that you’re better at putting your lens in with your middle finger instead of your index finger, or that you like holding your lids open with certain fingers over others.
Safety is especially important when taking the contacts off (when you’re required to ~pinch at it), so make sure whatever you do, you’re still removing it from the white of your eye and not directly from the cornea. As long as you do that, you’re welcome to experiment to find a method that’s best for you, says Thau.
15. When in doubt, take your contacts out.
When you’re still figuring out this whole contacts thing, err on the side of caution when it comes to irritation. “Pain is not your friend,” says Thau. “Your contacts should look good and feel good. You can lubricate them with some drops, but if that doesn’t relieve it, take the lenses out. The worst thing you can do is suffer through the pain and go from a minor problem to a major one.”
And, of course, never be afraid to call your doctor.
16. And lastly, celebrate, because you’re about to be able to SEE.
Most people love the transition from glasses to contacts, says Nguyen. Sure, contacts come with their own sets of responsibilities and challenges, but you get added peripheral vision, better magnification, and don’t have to fuss with frames. So ENJOY.
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