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Disposable Contact Lenses

The introduction of the disposable contact lens in the 1980’s was an important advance in the contact lens industry. A disposable contact lens, as defined by the US FDA, is a contact lens that is worn once and then discarded. Notice the FDA does not define a time period for “once”, nor does it state that the lenses should be worn again after removed. In fact the lenses can be worn for any period of time between 1 day to 30 days. Disposable contact lenses should not be re-inserted once removed.


“Necessity is the mother of invention.” This familiar phrase rings true in the development of disposable contact lenses.

Hydrogel contact lenses for daily use became very popular with patients because they were comfortable. This comfort, however, came with a price. Complications associated with bacterial keratitis began to appear. Pseudonomas and other bacteria became resistant to disinfectant solutions. Proper care and cleansing was tedious, many patients did not perform them properly. How could researchers and developers solve these problems? Contacts that can be worn for longer periods of time.

Introducing extended wear contact lenses. Less handling and less exposure to cleaning solutions should solve all problems. However, cases of microbial keratitis were still reported, with extended wear contact lenses. Doctors believed the only solution would be daily disposable lenses. This was impractical. It would be costly and supply could not keep up with demand. How about extended wear disposable lenses?

Extended wear disposable lenses were approved in 1987, and the ophthalmic community was thrilled. Again, reports of keratitis appeared, as did reports of peripheral ulcers. Studies at this time showed the incidence of keratitis was greater in disposable extended wear contact lenses than in regular extended wear contact lenses. For the most part doctors stopped recommending the disposable variety. When they were recommended, doctors suggested they be worn as daily lenses and then discarded after 2-8 weeks. In fact, when both subjective and objective complications of contact lens wearers are reviewed, disposable extended wear contact lenses have fewer complications than regular extended wear lenses.

Today the development and approval of the high DK silicone hydrogel extended wear disposable lens solves many of the previous problems experienced by contact lens wearers. Yet still they are not trouble free. They are not tolerated by all patients and occasionally result in epithelial breaks.

Disposable lenses are now available in toric lenses, presbyobic lenses, and colored lenses. Use of disposable lenses is popular with occasional use patients, those who might only use contacts to play in a sporting event, or to attend a wedding. Disposable lenses are used in place of refractive surgery. Should a patient choose refractive surgery, disposable lenses can aid in epithelial healing and increase comfort post surgery. Disposable lenses are also helpful after cataract surgery.

Certainly, disposable contact lenses have advanced over the years and claim an important place in contact lens history.

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