Bifocal and Multifocal Contact Lenses
Most people don't know that contact lenses can be bifocal, trifocal, or even progressive.
But it's true: New multifocal contacts are being designed each year for people with presbyopia, a natural condition brought on by age, where the eye's natural lens stiffens and loses the ability to focus on close objects.
If you're presbyopic, you're not alone. Eventually, almost everyone is, usually after age 40.
Where people do differ is how they deal with it. Some use reading glasses or bifocals. Others choose progressive eyeglass lenses, which correct near, intermediate, and far vision but without the unsightly lines of traditional bifocals. Still others opt for bifocal contact lenses.
If you are presbyopic, consider this:
Reading glasses are inconvenient.
If you're having trouble seeing up close, you don't have to wear bifocals or reading glasses. GP contact lenses come in multifocal designs, too.
One of the most common complaints among presbyopes is having to put on and take off their reading glasses all day long. Switching between regular glasses and reading glasses ("readers") is even more annoying.
Reading glasses must be carried everywhere. And they are often misplaced or forgotten, forcing some people to buy several pairs for different areas of their home and workplace.
Readers and bifocals are unattractive.
They hide the eyes from the world and emphasize age. Even people who are used to wearing eyeglasses don't like the obvious lines and segments of bifocal glasses.
While no-line progressive addition eyeglass lenses look better, they are still eyeglasses. And many people object to the distorted vision they provide to the left and right unfortunately, this distortion is unavoidable in current progressive eyeglass lens designs.
Finally, having to purchase one or more pairs of bifocal or progressive sunglasses makes the eyeglass option quite expensive.
Your answer may be multifocal contacts.
There are several contact lens designs that help you see both close up and far away, as well as correct astigmatism.
Watch this video about Jacqueline Herkowitz, who likes multifocal GP contacts because they give her both sharp distance vision for sailing and excellent closeup vision for reading.
One type has a distance viewing area in most of the lens and a near viewing segment in the middle lower portion. Another has a series of concentric rings, where the visual system constantly adjusts focus for distance and near. [Read more about bifocal designs.]
To get started with multifocals, your eye care practitioner will determine your near vision acuity and then choose a design that works best with your cornea size and shape, tear film, blink pattern and lifestyle. As with any new multifocal eyewear, you'll also receive brief training on the best way to use the lenses, as well as a follow-up appointment to be sure you've adapted to them.
Another option could be monovision.
This consists of wearing a contact lens on one eye for distance, and on the other for near. Either soft contacts or GP contacts can be used for monovision.
Although monovision is a popular option, a major disadvantage is that for some people, it compromises depth perception.
Which is better for multifocal contacts: soft or rigid materials?
Multifocal contacts exist in both soft and firm materials, but many eye care professionals agree that firm lenses (GP contacts) provide better vision because they keep their shape well when you blink. This reduces annoying, eye-straining refocusing; it also makes it easier to adapt to viewing in the near and far zones without a "swimming" feeling. And GP contacts are more stable on the eye, so vision segments remain right where they should.
Another advantage to over-40 people, who are more susceptible than younger people to dry eye syndrome, is that GP contact lenses don't absorb moisture away from your eyes the way soft lenses will.
GPs also resist collecting bits of protein and other debris from your tears much better than soft lenses. It's these deposits that can make soft lenses uncomfortable and scratchy, especially for dry-eye sufferers.
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[Page updated February 2013]