Why do people wear hard contact lenses?

- asks Lindsey from New York

This gas permeable rigid contact lens does not contain water like soft contacts, is resistant to deposits, and is less likely to harbor bacteria. CREDIT: [PARAGON VISION SCIENCES, INC.]
By | Posted June 25, 2007
Posted in: Ever Wondered?, Health
Tags: , , ,

Other than being generally awkward, I’ve spent most of my time since I was 13 getting things in my eye–or rather, getting things stuck onto my gas permeable, “hard” contact lenses. Other formative moments have had me blinking on command so friends and gathered revelers could see the tiny, glass-like chunk in my eye move and resettle.

About four weeks ago, when I was yet again ticking off the reasons why I was lucky enough to have thick lenses directly on my eyeball, it occurred to me that I had been reciting the same spiel–a strange eye shape, really really really bad eye sight–for more than a decade.

What if, the science had changed and I no longer needed hard lenses? What if I should have had years of soft contact wearing behind me, and I didn’t know it, because I was blithely tripping along following the advice of the eye doctor I had during my adolescence.

Turns out, he was a smart man (let the record show I never doubted him). For certain vision corrections, rigid gas permeable lenses provide clearer, more precise vision than soft lenses. This is mainly due to structural difference between soft and gas permeable lenses.

Since soft contacts are traditionally made with water, they can actually dry out, causing their shape to warp and preventing clear vision as well as becoming a potential irritant. To stay hydrated, soft lenses draw moisture from the eye, which can lead to dry eyes. Water also binds to tear proteins making contacts attractive to “pollutants,” such as lotions and soaps, which creates a chunky, gritty build-up on the contact.

Rigid lenses, being stiff, don’t change shape when the wearer blinks, so they stay precisely focused. Not only that, rigid lenses, unlike soft contacts, do not contain any water. Because they are made with silicone polymers, rigid lenses are more oxygen permeable, making them healthier for the eyes (though these days, some soft lenses, called “extended wear,” are made of silicone hydrogel–a substance that allows almost as much oxygen to flow through as rigid lenses, and is less water dependent ).

But this is not to say gas permeable lenses are problemless; they, too, have their downside. When you first get them, you can’t just pop them in right away. Rather, they are broken in by wearing them for increasing amounts of time as your eye adjusts to having a new lump of stuff in it (I believe my doctor told me my eyelid had to form a sort-of groove…). Even if you are lifetime wearer, leaving the lenses out for a few days means going through the process of again .

Also, rigid gas permeables must be scrubbed clean, and soaked, nightly–while soft contacts can be worn constantly, soaked or simply tossed. Hard contacts are more expensive too, as are cleaning solutions (up to eleven or twelve dollars a bottle). But if you don’t lose them or crack them, hard lenses last longer (that’s a big “if”).

So, it seems as though “hard” lenses–full of mystery, science, and silicone–still serve an important function for certain contact wearers. Some last interesting facts about contact lenses:

1. Rigid gas permeable lenses are not the “hard” lenses of yesteryear, which were actually made of an oxygen-impervious substance called polymethyl methacrylate–truly “chunks in the eye.”

2. Gas permeables can also be used for nifty technique called orthokeratology, in which the lenses are worn–usually overnight–to reshape the cornea, leaving the patient with 20/20 vision. The effects of this last only one or two days, however, which is probably why it hasn’t caught on with all contact wearers.

*An interesting side-note: if you are wanting the best of both worlds, there is a new contact out with a rigid center, and soft circumference. Check it out

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  1. I wore hard contacts my whole life, too, until last spring. The doctor suggested I just give some soft ones a try, because they would correct my vision “almost” as well as gas permeables. Turns out I couldn’t even tell the difference (I mean, I guess my right eye is SLIGHTLY blurry but with both eyes open I don’t notice at all) and I find them much more comfortable than my old ones. I’m converted! I have to say, though, I miss being able to amaze people with the whole blink-and-watch-it-go novelty act, and I also miss having the option to moisten/clean a contact in my mouth when necessary. …Probably not doctor recommended, but don’t even try to pretend you haven’t done it!

    Karen Schrock, June 25, 2007 at 5:57 pm
  2. GP’s (gas perms) can be made more comfortable if they are made larger. Today’s computer controlled lathes can make better fitting gas perms and larger ones that can tuck under the lids. Lid interaction is what most GP wearers notice. Perhaps it’s too late for most people since soft lenses have already taken over the vast majority of eye doctor’s lens fits.

    The Synergeyes lens is one very nice option.

    An eye doctor, June 27, 2007 at 5:28 pm
  3. I’m glad I’m not the only one who will be wearing the hard lenses still, I insisted upon getting them because I found the soft ones to be awkward and blurry for me. Even so, getting used to them is a real pain.

    Anastasia, August 17, 2007 at 8:49 pm
  4. Well at the age of 55 I was a little fed up with reading glasses and having different strength ones for working on the computer, which is my job, so I now have zwave multifocal RPG lenses. This is my third week, and I really find things blurry WITHOUT my lenses. But my eyes were very, very, tired before I asked for lenses as they were struggling to focus. RGP’s were recommended for their clarity and longevity and so far I’m convinced. But technology is still moving forward and who knows what new things will hit the market in the next few years.
    Three weeks is about the norm for getting used to these I’m told, and it seems I’m fairly normal in that.

    Alan, September 20, 2007 at 2:36 am
  5. I wore hard lenses from 1977 to 1994. When I moved and changed eye doctors, the new guy prescribed gas permeable lenses. I found them to be even more uncomfortable than hard lenses, and they didn’t give me the clarity of vision I got from hard lenses. Gas permeable lenses also seemed to be lighter, and didn’t rotate quite as well as hard lenses. They required more intensive cleaning, and picked up way too much protein deposits. When I complained about all this my new optometrist switched me to soft toric lenses, which were comfortable, but didn’t give me near enough clarity of vision. Both gas permeable and soft lenses made my presbyopia bad enough that I had to wear reading glasses to read.
    By chance I had saved a very slightly used pair of hard lenses from my original prescription in 1977. I put them in just for fun, and they work so much better than any of the newer type of lenses. I no longer need reading glasses, and I can see distance wise just as well or better than gas permeables.
    I have an eye exam next week, and I’m going to demand that the optometrist issue me hard lenses in a duplicate prescription, or I’m going to change doctor’s until I find one that will. I should have never allowed this guy to talk me into going gas permeable in the first place. Sometimes the so called new technology is not the best for everyone.

    Steve, August 7, 2008 at 1:37 pm
  6. I was prescribed gas permeable contacts when I was in the 7th grade. I wore them until I was 22. That’s when I decided to try soft contacts since I seemed to be the only person with the GP. I’ve been wearing the soft for about 5 years and I think I’m about to switch back to the GP. I’ve had a difficult time achieving good vision with the soft contacts and recently the fit of my right contact has been very poor due to my astigmatism. I have to constantly blink to keep the contact from fogging up. I have liked the ease of wearing soft contacts: no cleaning, disposable, comfort, etc. but I know that my vision was much better with the GP and it’s totally worth the extra hassle to me. Now I understand why my eye doctor tried to discourage me 5 years ago from switching to the soft lenses. I miss that crisp vision that I had with the GP. I think I can handle the extra care that they require. My sight is worth that.

    sallie, September 26, 2008 at 12:03 pm
  7. I have been wearing hard/lenses then the new GP when they were introduced for a total of 35 years Im 67 years old and now wear them all day, used to wear them primarily for sports, they have to be cleaned daily and you must use the right storing liquid or they become brittle and break.

    Russ Tait, October 31, 2008 at 8:50 am
  8. I wore GP lenses for 20 years when I started thinking about LASIK. My eye doc suggested trying soft lenses in preparation for a LASIK evaluation. I was hesitant since I had tried them with another doc several years earlier and didn’t get good correction. Turns out for my nearsightedness + astigmatism there are several new choices in soft lenses. Though it took four trial pairs we got my vision to 20/20. I have never been 20/20 with glasses or GP’s.

    My eyes are far less tired at the end of the day, I don’t feel I need to take a day off from wearing contacts once a week (as with my GP’s) and if they are dry at the end of the day my big decision is do I want to walk up two flights from my basement computer to my bathroom to take them out. Now the only reason I don’t put my soft lenses in on some days is pure laziness.

    My wife is more nearsighted than I and still wears GP’s and is a bit afraid to change. But she is also experiencing tired eyes and may ask for a trial pair at her next exam.

    Contacts are not for everyone. Some people are deathly afraid of putting anything near – let alone on – their eye. Some may not be able to manage the handling regimen. And others have eyes that react crazy to them. I know people in all three categories.

    As to which type will work better for you, often the only way to find out is to try. But if your doctor is recommending GP its usually for a reason. For some they work much better at correcting vision.

    Mark, December 13, 2008 at 12:44 pm
  9. I have been wearing the hard lenses for 35 years and I am very pleased with them. My first pair was a kind of a phenomenon, as I had it for over 11 years!!! Recently I have encountered some problems because I had to change the , which went under different commercial names through the years and it was absolutely brilliant for my eyes. The producers decided recently that it is not profitable anymore and they stopped making it. I tried many different solutions, as Totalcare etc., but my vision gets blurred after a while, or with other words, lenses become unclear. This pair is only a couple of months old so wearing out doesn’t cut it. I would appreciate your comments or suggestions.

    Andreja Wastl Petrič, January 23, 2009 at 10:46 am
  10. After 30 yrs and the age factor of reading close up the eye doctor told me to try the new contacts which address the bifocal issue. I have had them for a week now and the issue I am having is putting them in, but more so taking them out. With GAS RP’s they were easy to pop in and out without really having to touch your eye. As of now, I have a swollen red eye because I find the soft very hard to get out. My doctor made the comments that my eye was dry when I took the exam. I am beginning to believe that my eyes have always been dry which is why the soft contact is sticking to my eye…?

    Garrett, February 17, 2009 at 1:23 pm
  11. hi
    I’m 15 years old and have been wearing contacts since i was five. i started out with contacts and glasses together tried just glasses then went to just soft contacts. i loved them because i never knew i wasn’t actually seeing that great. About two months ago my doctor recommended gas perms and i was like ugh. lol. i tried a trial pair and they were extremely uncomfortable and kept falling out. i was getting ready to tell my doctor i don’t care if i don’t see that well i want to go back to soft, when i tried one pair with a new fitting. I LOVE them! They feel just like soft contacts, i see 20/25 which is the best I’ve ever been, and their not that bad to take care of. the only problem is that they got the prescription on one eye mixed up or something so im just wearing one contact for now but that’s OK because when i go back in 2 days im going to tell just don’t touch the fitting. :) gas perms aren’t that bad when you get them fitted right.

    victoria, August 3, 2009 at 7:36 pm
  12. I’m 53 years old and have had the same pair of Gp’s for 26 years, not bad. I had “lost” one about 4 times over the years but was always able to find it somehow. Finally lost one two weeks ago at my 16 year old daughters softball game. I’m in the market for a new pair and will defineatly go with the GP’s. P.S. I’m surviving now by wearing one of the first pair I got 28 years ago. Hard with the little laser holes.

    Rich Smith, August 20, 2009 at 10:31 pm
  13. I’m 22 years old, and I’ve been wearing soft contact lesnes since I was about 15. I’ve always loved them, and never had a real problem with them. I have really high precription, and recently moved abrod. My new eye doctor suggested hard contact lenses because I was constantly getting eye infenctions.

    Ive been with GP for a week, and Im having A VERY HARD time adjusting but I really do see so much better

    Anita G, September 2, 2009 at 5:37 am
  14. I wore soft for years. Uncomfortable at night and poor vision. Changed to GPs, excellent vision. Now wearing high oxygen Menicon ‘Menifocal’ bifocals – work perfectly and are more comfortable than soft. Can be worn for up to a month. HIGHLY recommended.

    Stevo, September 21, 2009 at 5:48 pm
  15. I have wearing hard contacts since the 7th grade. And that has been 38 years ago. I wore the old hard lences until 18 years ago, then changed to gas permebail. I have no problems with them I did have bifocles but now I am doing the one eye sees to read and the other is for distance. It is working well, but I have come to the reality I am seeing impaired and will never see 20-20 so what i am able to see is a blessing

    debra, October 23, 2009 at 11:52 pm
  16. I;ve been wearing them for 3 years, on the comments some of you said you’ve been wearing them on during the day, aren’t you suppose to wear it at night? Thats what I do.

    Amber, September 5, 2010 at 8:13 pm
  17. I am almost 62 years old and have been wearing contact lenses since 1970. I got my first pair of hard contacts in ’66 but tried to get through the ‘adjustment’ week in one day and did considerable damage to the top layer of my eyes. Fortunately it was repairable in a few days with medication and patches over my eyes but it scared me away. Not till I read an artical in Readers Digest on the gas perms—or was it the “new” soft lenses?— did I try them again and inside of a few days I was wearing my contacts every day with no problem. I didn’t get the gas perms right away tho, perhaps not till the mid ’70s. I have looked into soft lenses and have heard many stories about the transition taking possibly years because of the “relaxing” of my eyes from conforming all these years to rigid lenses where the soft ones do not shape the eye and I would be replacing the Rx every few months to correct the change.
    After reading some of these posts I see most folks say their vision is also not as sharp with soft lenses.
    I have no trouble caring for these RGP’s and I did have trouble inserting and removing the soft ones when I did try them. I realize it takes practice.
    I do have a question for Rich Smith—what kind of lenses were the ones you mentioned—-with laser holes? Interesting.
    I now have bifocal gas perms and the first week or so they were great but I am right back to wearing reading glasses even with the contacts in. They were more expensive and apparently not suited for me. I will go back to single vision GP’s.

    Cathi, September 28, 2010 at 1:54 pm
  18. I have no choice but to wear GP lenses now. I’m 24 and started wearing soft contact lenses when I was 13. About a month ago I developed Keratitis from wearing soft contact lenses for so many years. The soft lenses caused a severe lack of oxygen from getting into my eyes which left scars on my corneas. The scars lead to nerve damage which eventually leads to blindness. Luckily, my Kerstitis was caught before any damage to my vision occurred, although I’ll always have scar tissue. Now, I have no choice but to wear glasses, get surgery, or wear GP lenses. I got fitted for GP lenses the other day but they seem so uncomfortable (not to mention expensive). I’m really hoping that with time I’ll be able to get used to them. I really don’t like wearing glasses. My eye doctor told me a lot of people aren’t able to make the transition from soft lenses to hard lenses. He said a lot of people find it to be too uncomfortable. Hopefully that wont be the case with me!

    Victoria, October 28, 2010 at 10:36 pm
  19. Get the hard contacts! My half brother who has been wearing hard contacts for over 40 years. He was about 18 years old when he started wearing contacts. He has had the same prescription als. Twoyears ago he got intoxicated and lost one lense. He actually started to use one lense for distance and his natural eye for things up close. His eyes started to grow acustomed and he told me he loved it. Unfortunately he also lost the other contact about a year later. He could see TV,so my mom gave him a pair of her glasses to see distance. up until that time his opthamologist told him his eyes had not changed because the hard contact helped him retain the shape of his eye. Now he has gone at least 4months without contacts due to his finances and his eyes are changing drastically. so be careful what you start off with for the future of your vision

    GG, January 4, 2011 at 6:06 pm
  20. I am 24 and wore soft contacts from the ages of 14 to 20 before I began to have serious problems with dry eyes and blurry vision in soft contacts. I am going to try some custom made gas permeable contact lenses and see how I see in those.

    Yoleitoinia, May 9, 2011 at 6:30 pm
  21. i started at age 15 with gp. my first pair last 19 years..lost them down drains, dropped on bar floors and always found them. had a period of years wearing my daughter and mom’s old gp and have had my current set for 6 years. now the over 40 thing is hitting and i’m needing reading glasses..just started working in a steel factory and decided to get prescription bifocal safety glasses..they are terrible. my distance is totally gone. eye doctor is recommending me try monovision contacts so i think i will give that a try with some tighter to my eyes regular safety glasses for work..i miss seeing crystal clear at all distances.

    tlb, June 17, 2011 at 1:03 am
  22. I am 36yrs old.I had an eye infection a few years bach due to which i developed scars on my cornea. at that time I came to know that I had karatoconous as well. now i am using glasses, but these are not doing well for my vision. my doctor suggestd hard lense but many people told me that hard lenses may damage my eyes thats why I opted to wear glasses. I want suggesion wehter i should go for hard lenses or not?please tell me its pros and cons

    zaiba, June 22, 2011 at 12:51 am
  23. I as well have keratacones. Glasses in the end did nothing as my eye doctor said to me glasses from this point on are useless and told me about hard contacts. It took almost a year to be fitted in the right lenses but it was so worth it. Ill admit it took me quiet sometime to get used to them but now I wear them all the time. I can’t see without them. Like I said it takes awhile to get used to them but in time you will and you will realize being able to see clearly is well worth it.

    becky, July 23, 2011 at 11:12 am
  24. steep by steep treating case with keraticounse with hard contact lens
    i hope that if possiple vidio

    galal, September 20, 2011 at 4:38 am
  25. I’ve worn GP for 12 years. I’ve thought of switching to soft often, as it seems the rest of the world wears soft lenses. However my mom used to work for an eye doctor and stresses often how much better GP are for your eyes. To those who are new to them, research your eye doctor. I recently swit,he’d eye drs and found out my old lenses weren’t fit correctly and did some minor damage that will more than likely correct itself. GP/hard lens fitting is a science, so find a dr who educates his/herself appropriately. My next step? Lasik! :)

    Natalie, November 28, 2011 at 12:19 am
  26. I can so relate to you as far as bad vision goes and explaining my thicker than thick glasses even with the latest advancements. I wore soft lenses through most of my late teens and then I had to give them up because they no longer provided clarity. Also because my astigmatism grew.
    Then one eye doctor I was seeing told me I shouldn’t be wearing contacts at all which bummed me out a little. I liked wearing them socially if nothing else. :)
    So I switched doctors for other reasons as well. He suggested I wear GP. I hadnt even known they existed and so when I got my pair I was surprised at how hard they were. They had to numb my eyes for me to get into them. I have been wearing them on and off for 2 months now. We are still working on getting the number right. I still can’t see clearly.
    I feel like it will fall when I am driving and I turn to look in my blind spot when changing lanes.
    So my question to all of you long term wearers is, how often do they fall out?

    Abeer, July 16, 2012 at 8:59 am
  27. I suffer from Sjogens and have astigmatism plus nearsighted. I’ve tried accuvue moist for astigmitism but I can only last 3 hours before my eyes are painfully dry. My eyes are also very sensative to chemicals and preservatives. I can’t even use soft contact rewetting drops. What would the best lens be for my extremely dry eye with astigmatism and nearsightedness be? Is there a cleaning system that system that uses heat instead if chemicals? Last, is there a colored contact for extremely dry eyes for astigmatism plus nearsightedness? I’ve already tried Accuvue Moist for astigmatism, which are the lens I only can tolerate 3 hours.

    Elizabeth, September 4, 2012 at 1:49 pm
  28. @ ABeer: Your GPs shouldn’t fall out like that. When I first got mine, the one on my right eye did that once. I went back to the eye Doctor and he worked his magic and refitted it. The lense never fell out again. Ok, maybe on another occasion when a guy punch me in the face. But yeah Bro, tell the doc that they’re slipping off. He should be able to fix that and the clarity. GPs gave me a whole lot of better vision than the soft contacts.

    Jay, October 1, 2012 at 12:40 am
  29. I am 23 and I have been wearing GP lenses for 6 years now and they were really great during the first years (I changed them twice since they last longer than soft lenses do),however, the problem is that it seems that I had an eye infection ,allergy ,and astigmatism which made wearing them really uncomfortable in the right eye to the extent that I could barely open my right eye in the glare. I confess that they changed my life from poor vision (-17) into 20/20 but I still suffer from some headaches, lack of concentration & fatigue and I really need a surgery. What do you recommand?

    Aziza, May 3, 2013 at 7:45 am
  30. I have worn hard and later gas permeable lenses for the last 51years without any problems! My sister told me they eventually badly scar the cornea. Is that true? Apart from the occasional speck of dust in my eye I have never had the slightest problem (I turned 70 last month)

    Julie, August 9, 2013 at 5:31 am
  31. I’ve worn some form of hard contact lenses for 40 years and never had a single problem I recently had cataract surgery with lasik and although my vision post surgery is significantly better, I’m not at 20/20. After surgery I tried soft lenses and HATED the blurriness and trying to get the soft lenses in and out of my eyes. I’m back to hard lenses and enjoying my crisp, clear vision.

    PatB, September 18, 2014 at 7:43 pm
  32. I’ve been wearing gp contacts since I was 12. I’m 43 yrs old & love them. It took some adjusting in the beginning but I’m so glad that I stuck through the adjustment period & became comfortable wearing them. My daughter who is 13 wants contacts & I’m hoping she will be able to get fited with gp’s. For some reason the eye dr office is saying she will most likely get soft, but I’m curious as to why. Time will tell.

    April A, September 29, 2014 at 10:47 pm
  33. I am wearing rigid gas-permeable contacts now and they are the best thing that ever happened to me. I am 53 years old and I have been wearing glasses since I was a five-year-old girl. Since I had very high myopia (and astigmatism) which steadily increased as I was a teenager, the RGP’s provided clear vision that soft contacts couldn’t because my astigmatism was so bad. But, I was originally fitted with regular PMMA hard contacts in the 1970s, and I would have very blurry vision when I popped them out and put my glasses on. My eyes would take HOURS to recover from the old hard contacts. Now, I don’t even wear my glasses anymore (unless I am at home alone) because they are so thick.

    Katrina, November 28, 2014 at 2:33 am
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