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What Is a Contact Lens Exam & Why Are They Important?

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Optometrist showing a contact lens in and eye care office

If you have to wear contact lenses, you’re not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 45 million people wear contact lenses in America alone. 

Even though contact lenses are common, most people don’t realize the importance of properly fitting contact lenses. Because contact lenses are worn directly on the eyes, some inherent risks are associated with their wear compared to standard glasses.

Ill-fitting contact lenses can lead to vision problems and can severely damage your eyes. It is imperative that you receive a professional eye exam and contact lens fitting before ordering and wearing contacts. 

Why do People Wear Contacts? 

People wear contact lenses to correct a range of refractive errors, including nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, and presbyopia

Your eye doctor may also determine that you require specialty contact lenses to treat eye diseases such as keratoconus or corneal damage caused by infection or injury.

Advantages of Wearing Contacts

Contact lenses are available in the same prescription strength as regular glasses, but there are several reasons why people may choose to wear contact lenses over glasses. Some of the reasons people prefer wearing contacts over glasses are because: 

  • Contact lenses don’t steam up or get water spots
  • They provide a wider field of vision
  • They don’t distort or reflect light
  • Contact lenses won’t slip or fall down
  • They don’t cause facial discomfort
  • They don’t restrict your freedom of movement
  • Contact lenses don’t alter your physical appearance
  • You can wear contacts with sunglasses

Disadvantages of Wearing Contacts 

Unfortunately, there are also many disadvantages associated with contact lens wear. Some disadvantages include: 

  • Contact lenses require more time and commitment
  • They can cause severe complications if they are ill-fitted or not properly cared for
  • They have more specific directions for use 
  • They have the potential to cause eye infections 
  • Contacts can cost more than prescription glasses

What Is a Contact Lens Exam?

A contact lens exam will include both a comprehensive eye exam and a contact lens exam.

Your eye doctor will perform an eye exam to check your overall eye health, your general vision and discuss any concerns you have about your ocular health. 

After finishing a regular eye exam, your eye doctor will perform several tests to determine your contact lens prescription (which is different from your glasses prescription!) and examine your eyes for any conditions that may prevent you from wearing contact lenses.

What to Expect During a Contact Lens Exam

A typical contact lens exam includes the following steps:

  • A consultation where your optometrist asks about your medical history and lifestyle. Your doctor will consider your general health, hobbies and profession to decide which contacts are right for you
  • A standard eye exam to test overall eye health and determine how well your eyes function
  • A contact lens exam to find what prescription you require
  • A contact lens fitting to find the correct size, style, and shape needed for your eyes
  • A contact lens trial to see if your new contact lenses are the right fit
  • A follow-up appointment to see if any adjustments are necessary before ordering and long-term wear
A woman putting in a contact lens

The Importance of Fitting Contact Lenses  

Contact lenses are not a one-size-fits-all solution and require a proper fitting to safely correct vision issues. If your contacts don’t fit properly, you could experience several problems that can lead to severe conditions and can even lead to blindness. 

Dangers of Wearing Ill-Fitting Contact Lenses  

Some of the dangers associated with ill-fitting contact lenses include: 

Corneal Abrasions

A corneal abrasion occurs when your cornea is scratched. A corneal abrasion can be serious, and a damaged cornea can be challenging to repair. 

Signs and symptoms of corneal abrasion include:

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms after contact lens wear, seek prompt medical attention. If left untreated, corneal abrasions can become infected and can lead to corneal ulcers or vision impairment

Tight Lens Syndrome

If your contact lens fits too tightly, it can stop your cornea from getting the necessary oxygen and nutrients it needs to function. This is known as tight lens syndrome. Tight lends syndrome causes discomfort and can lead to serious eye problems, such as:

Contact Lens Intolerance

Another issue associated with wearing ill-fitting contact lenses is the chance that you will develop an intolerance to contact lenses. Contact lens intolerance means that contact lenses will no longer be a sufficient option to correct vision issues in your eyes. Unfortunately, this means that you will have to undergo laser vision correction or use eyeglasses.

The Takeaway 

Whether or not you have vision problems, it is essential to have your eyes checked regularly to ensure they are healthy and that there are no signs of a developing eye condition. 

Without receiving a proper contact lens exam and fitting, you should never wear contact lenses as it opens you up to the potential for overall eye and vision problems. 

Written by Stephen Lobaugh

Dr. Lobaugh is an affiliate doctor with TLC Laser Eye Centers, a position that allows him to effectively co-manage a variety of refractive surgeries including LASIK, PRK, and KAMRA inlay. He is also certified by the International Association of Board of Examiners in the treatment and management of ocular disease.

More Articles By Stephen Lobaugh

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