With rigid contact lenses having been the only lenses around until the 60s, side effects were common as the lenses didn’t allow for any oxygen to pass through to the cornea. Eventually oxygen-permeable, rigid materials, or so called RGP contact lenses, were launched.
The initial idea that would inspire the development of soft contact lenses was published in the late 1950s by the Czech chemists Otto Wichterle and Drahoslav Lim. Some countries received the new hydrogel lenses in the 1960s, but it wasn’t until in 1971, when Bausch & Lomb’s SofLens material was approved, that soft lenses created mass appeal. The soft lenses became immensely popular thanks to their immediate comfort and convenience.
During the following two and a half decades the oxygen-permeability of soft contact lenses was significantly improved, and the first ever silicone hydrogels were launched just before the shift of the millennium. These combined the high-quality comfort of the hydrogels with the extreme oxygen-permeability of silicone and once again increased the popularity of contact lens wear.
Soft contact lenses are larger in size than RGP lenses, covering the entire iris with the edges resting on the sclera, and thanks to their flexibility they are very easy to get used to, as they fit the shape of your eye naturally. While the adjustment period in switching from glasses to contacts can be characterised by some discomfort, the 30-80% water content of soft lenses makes this period much shorter. These lenses, sometimes described as a piece of thick cling film, normally only take a couple of days to adapt to, compared to weeks with RGP lenses.
In clinging to the eyeballs, soft lenses prevent foreign particles from getting stuck between the lens and the cornea and cause irritation. The grip also holds the lens in place, making it unlikely to fall out.
The only slight downside to soft contacts compared to RGP lenses is the price – they need to be replaced more often or, if not disposed of every day, cleaned and disinfected thoroughly. Cleaning products and accessories obviously incur a small additional cost, as does a bigger quantity supply. Many wearers, however, are more than happy to pay the extra few pounds for the exceptional convenience of soft contact lenses.
Soft lenses are by far the most popular type of lenses around, accounting for over 95% in Scandinavia and close to 80% of prescribed contact lenses in Japan, Netherlands and Germany.
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