A woman holding a box of contacts

How Do Contact Lenses Work?

Posted Mar 17, 2023 | Tips, Tricks & Tech

Contact lenses work by bending light so that it’s brought into focus on the retina, where vision receptors gather information and send it onto the brain. Manipulating light in this way is known as refraction, and eyeglasses operate on the same principle.

Most common vision concerns are caused by a misshapen eye failing to focus light on the retina. For example, you’re nearsighted if the focal point is before your retina, and you’ll have poor distance vision. You’re farsighted if light doesn’t come into focus by the time it reaches the retina, resulting in blurred vision for nearby objects. There are contacts for a variety of issues, but all use refraction to move light rays.

Contacts adhere to the layer of tears that cover the eye and are invisible to others. That’s why some people prefer wearing contacts to glasses. There are pros and cons that come with either option but both result in better vision.

A Brief History of Contact Lenses

Modern contact lenses first appeared in the 1970s, but scientists as far back as the 16th century were aware of their potential based upon emerging theories of optics. Unfortunately for these pioneers, the materials (plastic or silicone) and processes necessary to mass-produce contacts didn’t come along until much later.

How to Put in Contact Lenses

People trying contacts for the first time may be a little grossed out by the idea of touching their eyes. Don’t worry—it’s actually really easy to put in contacts and most people get used to the process quickly:
  1. Wash your hands with soap to keep dirt and bacteria off of your fingers. These can cause eye irritation or infection. Dry off with a lint-free towel to avoid picking up dust or small bits of fabric.
  2. Put a single contact lens on the tip of your index finger. Make sure that the lens isn’t torn or inside out.
  3. Use one finger to hold your upper eyelid open and get eyelashes out of the way. Use another finger to keep your lower eyelid open.
  4. Look up as you gently place the contact lens near your iris. Blink to ensure that the lens adheres to the surface of the eye directly over your pupil.

How to Remove Contact Lenses

Follow these steps when it’s time to take out your contacts:
  1. Wash your hands with soap before touching your eyes. Dry off with a lint-free towel.
  2. While looking up, pull down your lower eyelid with a single finger.
  3. Using your index finger, touch the bottom edge of the lens and gently slide it down and off the iris.
  4. Apply a bit of pressure to squeeze the contact lens between your index finger and thumb. The lens should come free of your eye.
  5. Daily lenses? Throw them away. Weekly or monthly contacts? Clean and store them according to the contact manufacturer’s guidelines.

Caring for Contact Lenses

Your contact lenses are medical devices, and it’s important to follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer. Here are several tips to keep your contacts in working order:
  1. Wash your hands with soap before handling contacts; this helps prevent eye infections. Dry off with a lint-free towel.
  2. Clean and disinfect your contacts according to the instructions provided by the manufacturer or your doctor. Never use tap water, saliva, or bottled water to clean lenses, as these aren’t sterile and can introduce bacteria to your eyes.
  3. Don’t reuse the solution in your lens case. This can promote infection.
  4. Replace your contact lens case every few months so it doesn’t get dirty.
  5. Always inspect your contacts for damage before putting them in your eyes. When in doubt, throw them out.

Daily Disposable vs. Extended Wear Contact Lenses

Contact lens manufacturers continue to innovate to provide people with more comfortable and durable lenses. When it comes to how long you can wear contacts, consumers have two distinct choices: daily disposable or extended-wear (EW) lenses.

Daily disposable contacts are just what they sound like: one-and-done lenses that are tossed at the end of the day. There are several advantages to wearing daily contacts, including:
  1. Convenience: There’s no need to clean and disinfect daily contact lenses since you only wear them once.
  2. Decreased risk of infection: The lenses arrive in a sterile package and are worn once. This leaves little opportunity for bacteria to grow on the contacts.
Extended-wear contacts vary in their usable lifetimes; some can be worn for a week while others are approved for a month of continuous wear (even at night!). EW contacts are a convenient choice for many people, but they do need regular cleaning to ensure they stay clear of bacteria or deposits.

Your optometrist or ophthalmologist can help you decide which type of contact lens is right for your eyes. If it’s time for your annual eye exam, Eyeconic can help you find a doctor nearby.

Trying contacts for the first time? We created Contact Lenses 101 to answer all your questions about lens types, contact care, and more.