Contact Lenses

Daily vs. extended wear contacts: which is right for me?

There are three main types of contact lenses. Here’s how they each stack up when it comes to price, quality, and convenience.

Joel Hunter, MD
Joel Hunter, MD
Refractive Surgeon, Hunter Vision Updated 05/25/17 1:02 PM

There’s a famous saying about how you can have something fast, cheap, and good but you must choose only two of the three. Using a modicum of artistic, ophthalmologic liberty, I’d like to alter that to fit the story of contacts. Contacts can be convenient, cheap, and good as long as you only get to have two of those three. Since that gives us three iterations of contact lens choices, we can tackle them one by one. It works out well to have a third, albeit much less popular choice of non-disposable contacts. Here’s how they each stack up in our choose-two-of-the-three situation:

Convenient and cheap: Extended wear contact lenses

Extended wear disposable contacts would fall into this category. Cheap is relative in this situation, but that’s often true when using the word “cheap” in any situation. With extended wear contacts you can buy six at a time and they can last up to several months a piece. It’s obvious this comes out cheaper than daily wear. Daily wear contacts, by design of either science or black magic, also turn to absolute garbage in a day or two. Sorry, there’s no substituting for this one. It’s also convenient having contacts that you are “allowed” to sleep in if your eyes tolerate it. Some of these you can wear for two weeks without taking them out. While that may be pushing it, it’s nice to know if you do fall asleep in your contacts now and again, in most cases you'll be okay.

Cheap and good: Rigid gas permeable contacts

This elusive category seems too good to be true until you look again and see what’s missing. No real way to give a spoiler alert, so here you go: it’s convenience. The most common of the rarest type of contacts, non-disposable, are rigid gas permeable (RGP). RGP lenses have some very loyal fans and some very vocal opponents. Fans or opponents, they are all in complete unison on one thing: these contacts are beyond inconvenient. You’d be better off waking up to a cobra in your bed than waking up to discover you slept in your hard contacts by accident. If both were ever to happen at once, the terrified cobra would pose no threat. It would only cower as you howl guttural unholy invocations of chaos and fire on all. Also it's incovenient cleaning them in the appropriate solutions every night. Over the long haul, though, it is tough to beat them on price. They can last for many, many years. And vision with a good pair of RGP contacts almost always beats that of a good pair of soft, disposable contacts. In fact, the only contacts that can correct the vision of people with certain prescriptions are RGPs.

Convenient and good: Daily wear contact lenses

Well they aren’t cheap, but daily wear contact lenses are convenient for sure. No worries about solutions or cleaning or replacements. They’re all replacements. It’s like buying that giant, unwieldy, eight-ounce barrel of Eclipse gum in the checkout line. They may cost a few hundred dollars more, but daily wear contacts have the same siren’s call. “You’ve got enough on your mind; buy this and you won’t have to think about it again for a loooong time.” Whether it’s hundreds of contacts or a ludicrous supply of gum, it is nice to not worry about something for a while. Further, daily wear contacts have one more benefit in the convenience section: not having to choose between the saline-soaked storage ritual at bedtime or wearing contacts to sleep. You just throw them away when you're going to bed. That convenience is a big part of why daily wear contacts qualify for the “good” category, as well. Tossing them each night helps you avoid the problem of protein build-up that can lead to eye allergies and inflammation.

In the end, I can vouch for there being no contact that fits all three categories of convenient, cheap, and good. I know this to be true because there are so many types of contacts available. If there were one such legendary contact people would buy only that one kind. In that case, people reading this would also be as confused as if I were discussing which type of oxygen to buy. I guess we lucked out on that one.

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