Contact Lens Eye Exam

What Are Scleral Lenses?

Glasses and contacts can be life-changing for patients struggling with vision issues. Being unable to see clearly can seriously impact how we complete daily activities. Tasks such as reading, driving, and completing assignments at work can become almost impossible for those suffering from refractive errors.

But at Clarkson Eyecare, we know there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to vision correction. Each patient requires a solution that fits their needs and lifestyle. For some people, that may be a sturdy pair of glasses. For others who can’t stand the clunky feeling that it brings or who want full periphery vision, contacts may be a better solution.

But even with contacts, each person’s unique eyes require a unique solution. An unfortunate truth some of our patients learn during their examination is they have an ocular condition that makes wearing standard soft contact lenses or Rigid Gas Permeable (RGP) lenses impossible. These lenses sit directly on your cornea and require the surface of your eye to have no irregularities to correct vision properly.

For years, patients with irregularly shaped corneas or other underlying corneal conditions had to miss out on the freedom wearing contacts could bring. But that’s all changed in recent decades thanks to scleral lenses. Now, with the availability of scleral lenses more widespread than ever before, a significant number of patients who previously couldn’t wear contact lenses are finally eligible.

In this article, the specialty contact professionals of Clarkson Eyecare will discuss the fine points of scleral lenses, their benefits, and who they’re a perfect fit for. Read on to learn more about this remarkable contact lens technology and how it’s spreading the gift of clear vision to more people.

Types of Contact Lenses

To better understand just how different scleral lenses are from normal contact lenses, it’s important to know a little about the different lenses currently available. There are two types of lenses doctors usually prescribe: Soft contact lenses and Rigid Gas Permeable Lenses.

Soft Contact Lenses

Soft contact lenses are by far the most popular type of contact lens. These lenses are usually made of a flexible, silicone material that fits snugly to the contours of your cornea. These contact lenses are cheaper than other options and can come in sets that are disposed of after various lengths of time (usually daily, weekly, or monthly).

While cheaper than other lens options, the snug fit can dry out the eyes as the contact lens isn’t very “breathable.” Additionally, because they are mass-produced, vision correction may not be as sharp as other options.

Rigid Gas-Permeable Lenses

RGP lenses are made of more rigid silicone and are designed to sit on the surface of your cornea. They are less flexible than soft contact lenses, so the fit is less snug. This allows oxygen through to your cornea, allowing for a more “breathable” lens. This can prevent dry eye from frequent contact use and is reported to feel more comfortable by most patients. RGP lenses provide much sharper vision, and a single pair can last much longer than soft contact lenses (upwards of a year or more with proper care).

The downside of these lenses is they cost a bit more than their soft counterparts. In addition, because they don’t fit as snugly, they have a higher chance of dislodging and needing to be reapplied.

How Scleral Lenses Work

Scleral lenses are of the Rigid Gas Permeable variety. They are made harder than soft contact lenses on purpose to maintain their shape. These lenses are much larger than either of the standard types of contact lenses. While contact lenses are usually designed to fit on your cornea, scleral lenses vault over the cornea and rest on the white area around it, the sclera. This allows the contact lens to avoid any irregularities in the surface of the cornea that would disrupt vision correction.

Unlike most other contact lenses, scleral lenses are specially fitted and designed specifically for the shape of your eyes. Each pair of scleral lenses is one of a kind and is created to give you the maximum vision correction possible. Because so much goes into creating the lenses for you, they’re designed to last for a long time so that you can get significant use out of them.

The Advantages of Scleral Lenses

The biggest benefit of scleral lenses is that patients who normally wouldn’t be able to wear contacts cannot enjoy the full spectrum of vision that only contact lenses can bring. They are designed specifically to accommodate corneal conditions that usually prevent vision correction.

In addition, their design pulls pressure off of the sensitive cornea area of the eye and instead applies it to the surrounding, much denser sclera tissue. This makes scleral lenses some of the most comfortable to wear. As they’re gas permeable, they allow oxygen to pass through them to reach the cornea. They also contain a reservoir that you fill with specialized saline solution before applying them. This keeps the eye lubricated throughout the day and significantly reduces the chances of dry eye or eye irritation from contact use. If you’re using scleral lenses due to recent cornea or LASIK surgery, the saline solution can assist with the healing process.

Scleral lenses can achieve a high degree of vision correction because they are specifically designed for your eyes. This means the lenses are created to accommodate your unique vision needs, including correcting for astigmatism, corneal conditions or diseases, and more. In many ways, the same amount of care most opticians take to craft lenses for glasses is applied to scleral lenses.

Finally, scleral lenses are made to be durable. With proper maintenance and care, they last much longer than normal contact lenses. Some patients have even reported their scleral lenses lasting upwards of three years.

The Disadvantages of Scleral Lenses

Just like other types of vision correction solutions, scleral lenses also have their drawbacks. Chief among them is their cost. Because scleral lenses are specially fitted and designed to accommodate your eyes and only your eyes, they can be on the pricey side. Different ophthalmologists and opticians will price them differently based on a number of factors, but on the upper side of the range, scleral lenses can cost around five times as much as normal contact lenses.

Next, scleral lenses require a lot more work to maintain than other lenses. These lenses are meant to last years and require proper and frequent cleaning. Additionally, the reservoir design of the contact lens means dirt and debris from the eye can collect and eventually obscure vision. You may find you need to stop during the day to clean your lenses and reapply them for the best results. Some patients can find this level of maintenance inconvenient.

Finally, wearing scleral lenses can take some getting used to. Scleral lenses are much larger than your typical contact lens. If you’re used to wearing soft contact lenses and have recently switched to scleral lenses, they may feel strange and uncomfortable for a time as your eyes adjust. It’s possible it could take a couple of weeks before the lenses feel comfortable.

Who’s Eligible for Scleral Lenses?

Scleral lenses are mainly designed for patients who can’t normally wear contacts that make contact with the surface of their cornea. These include patients with:

  • Astigmatism

  • Keratoconus

  • Dry Eye Disease

  • Stevens-Johnson Syndrome

  • Sjogren’s Syndrome

Additionally, scleral lenses can be useful when recovering from corneal surgeries or if you’ve just undergone LASIK.

Get Scleral Lenses At Clarkson Eyecare

One of the largest issues surrounding scleral lens treatments is accessibility. Scleral lenses require eye doctors to undergo specialized training to understand how to measure and fit the lenses as well as how to keep an eye on the progress of your vision while wearing them.

But that’s not a problem at Clarkson Eyecare! We staff hundreds of practices across 11 states with highly-trained and experienced contact lens specialists that can fit you with scleral lenses. We use the latest in diagnostic equipment to help measure your eye to ensure your lenses are a perfect fit and provide the sharpest vision correction possible.

Head to your nearest Clarkson Eyecare for a contact lens exam today, and your doctor will discuss whether scleral lenses are right for you. We’re only ever a call or click away.

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