Understanding the Pros and Cons of Hard and Soft Contact Lenses

A woman putting contact lens in her eye at home
January 23, 2024
James Ashford

More patients than ever opt for contact lenses as a discreet and more natural alternative to eyeglasses. However, navigating the different types of contact lenses can feel confusing. We created the following guide to help you compare soft and hard contact lenses.

Types of Contact Lenses

Contact lenses are a versatile vision-correction product, and the market keeps growing as manufacturers experiment with new materials and contact lens technologies.

The main types of contact lenses include:

  • Hard contact lenses. These lenses offer crisp vision and are suitable for various correction types. They can last up to two years with proper care and are the most affordable option.

  • Soft contact lenses. These comfortable lenses use innovative materials like soft plastics or silicone hydrogel. They’re available for daily or extended wear but have some limitations.

Beyond differences in material and rigidity, lenses also differ in shape. For instance, an optometrist would prescribe spherical lenses to treat nearsightedness or farsightedness, toric lenses for astigmatism, and multifocal lenses for presbyopia.

Classification of Contact Lenses

Traditionally, hard contact lenses use a rigid plastic known as polymethyl methacrylate. In recent years, contact lens manufacturers have adopted silicone mixed with other compounds to create rigid gas-permeable (RGP) lenses that allow the cornea to breathe.

These lenses have several advantages. They’re less likely to tear, easy to insert and care for, and tend to stay in place. With proper care, rigid lenses can last up to two years, making them cost-effective.

Soft lenses are disposable, which can result in higher costs over time. They have the advantage of fitting more comfortably at first and being safer for practicing sports. However, they’re more likely to move and be challenging to manipulate. A higher rate of patients also report issues with allergies and infections, and soft silicone tends to let less oxygen through compared to RGP lenses, increasing the risk of developing corneal hypoxia.

Insights into Hard Contact Lenses

While the exact date that contact lenses became available is hard to pinpoint, they likely originated as hard contact lenses somewhere between 1887 and 1888. Since then hard contact lenses have come a long way.

The Benefits of Hard Contact Lenses

Hard lenses deliver crisper vision. Rigid silicone has a lower water content compared to soft lenses, which prevents lipid and protein buildups that can result in the jelly bumps soft contact users are familiar with.

Thanks to their rigid construction, hard lenses retain their shape and stay in place, allowing them to move naturally with the eye. On the other hand, soft lenses are more likely to shift and cause blurry vision.

Lastly, rigid lenses deliver clear vision by allowing for optimal oxygen transfer and preventing corneal hypoxia, which can emphasize blurry vision.

Vision Correction Options

Hard contact lenses are the preferred correction method for some patients.

  • Spherical lenses for nearsightedness and farsightedness are available in hard and soft materials, with no significant differences in correction options.

  • Toric lenses for astigmatism require precise adjustment along vertical and horizontal axes. Because soft lenses are more likely to move, rigid lenses have a clear advantage. Plus, soft lenses can’t correct irregular astigmatism.

  • Multifocal lenses for presbyopia come with soft or rigid materials, but hard lenses tend to have a more comprehensive reading area. Patients with advanced presbyopia can benefit from picking hard lenses over soft ones.

Insights into Soft Contact Lenses

While some still stay loyal to their hard contact lenses about 90% of users prefer soft contact lenses.

The Benefits of Soft Contact Lenses

Soft lenses offer unparalleled comfort. Made from hydrophilic materials, they contain more water, making them more flexible and comfortable to wear, especially for extended periods.

Due to their soft and adaptable nature, these lenses conform well to the surface of the eye, providing a more natural vision experience. This adaptability makes them less likely to cause discomfort or be dislodged from the eye, which is particularly beneficial for active individuals or those in dynamic environments.

Soft lenses also have the advantage of a shorter adaptation period compared to hard lenses. New wearers often find soft lenses easier to get used to, making them a great choice for those new to contact lenses.

Vision Correction Options

Soft contact lenses offer similar correction options to their hard counterparts for spherical lenses, toric lenses and multifocal lenses. However, because of their flexibility, they can also offer some things that hard lenses can’t:

  • Daily Disposable Lenses are used for a single day and then discarded. This option is particularly beneficial for those with allergies or who are prone to protein deposits on lenses. RGP lenses, on the other hand, are typically designed for longer-term use and require regular cleaning and maintenance.
  • Extended Wear Lenses are designed for extended or continuous wear, including overnight wear for up to a week or even 30 days, under the guidance of an eye care professional. This is generally not recommended with RGP lenses due to concerns about eye health, oxygen transmission, and the risk of infections.
  • Colored and Cosmetic Lenses come in a variety of colors and cosmetic designs, allowing wearers to change or enhance their eye color. This option is more limited and less common in RGP lenses.
  • Hybrid Lenses: Although not exclusively a soft lens feature, hybrid lenses combine a rigid gas permeable center with a soft lens skirt. This design offers the clarity of vision associated with RGPs and the comfort of soft lenses. These are an option for those who require the visual acuity of hard lenses but prefer the comfort of soft lenses.

In summary, soft contact lenses provide a comfortable, adaptable, and effective solution for a wide range of vision correction needs, making them a preferred choice for many.

Find the Right Fit

There are more options than ever as manufacturers explore new materials and contact lens technologies. However, hard lenses remain the most affordable option and are easy to manipulate while offering many correction options.

An optometrist can discuss the different types of contact lenses available and help you find the right fit for your unique vision needs.

Before scheduling an appointment, take a few minutes to review the prepaid vision plans and negotiated savings offered by Vision Care Direct of Oklahoma. Our negotiated savings can help you save on eye exams, contacts, and more. Contact VCD to learn more!

Not sure where to get started with recommending self-funded plans? Vision Care Direct of Oklahoma is pre-paid plan provider with and extensive of specialists who deliver eye care in Tulsa and nationwide with excellent value for employers and plan recipients.

Find out more about our self-funded plans and other flexible options.

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