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Overview of contact lenses

Michael J Lipson, OD, FAAO
Section Editor
Jonathan Trobe, MD
Deputy Editor
Howard Libman, MD, FACP


An estimated 40.9 million people aged 18 and older in the United States (one in six adults) wear contact lenses, with 93 percent wearing soft lenses and the remainder rigid gas-permeable lenses [1].

The types of available contact lenses, indications for their use, and appropriate care to decrease the risk of infection or trauma will be reviewed here. The complications with contact lens use are discussed separately. (See "Complications of contact lenses".)


Contact lenses may be categorized by their compositional material, wearing schedule, disposal schedule, permeability, water content, and type of correction (figure 1 and figure 2). With many new lens types available, there are alternatives to help most patients achieve comfortable lens wear with clear vision. New types of contact lenses are continually being introduced with the intent to decrease risks of infection, inflammation, and conjunctival trauma while maximizing vision correction and convenience of use [2].

Hydrophilic/soft lenses — Soft lenses account for more than 90 percent of prescribed contact lenses in the United States and worldwide (figure 2 and figure 1) [3,4].

Soft lenses are used to correct a variety of refractive errors, including myopia, hyperopia, astigmatism (toric lenses), and presbyopia (multifocal lenses). Not every prescription is available in every material or brand. Certain refractive errors, caused by keratoconus or other corneal distortions, may not be correctable with soft lenses.

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Oct 04, 2016.
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