Advance with MUSC Health

The Message is Clear: This Eye Doctor Says Contact Lens Wearers Have Lots of Options

Advance With MUSC Health
May 23, 2023
Dr. Kristen Gayeski Tinkler

Leonardo da Vinci did more than paint the famed Mona Lisa. The scientist, engineer, and inventor is also credited with developing the concept of the contact lens. 

It wasn’t until nearly 500 years later, in 1889, that the first contact lens was fitted to the human eye; well into the next century – in the 1930s – the first contact lens was introduced in the United States.

Thanks to these scientific visionaries, contact lens seekers have numerous contact lens options to improve their sight and comfort without wearing glasses, says Kristen Gayeski Tinkler, O.D., an optometrist at the Storm Eye Institute at MUSC Health. 

Who Needs to Wear Contact Lens?

Smiling woman holding contact lense.That’s good news because 61 percent of people in the U.S. need corrective eyewear, and one in four children needs corrective eyewear to see clearly. 

From infants to the elderly, many people, including those who have had eye surgery, are candidates for contact lenses. “Babies born with congenital cataracts require surgery in order for their eyes to develop properly,” Dr. Tinkler says. “Often in these cases, cataract removal results in very high prescriptions that are easier to correct using contact lenses.”

Patients with corneal diseases such as keratoconus, a disease that causes the cornea to become cone-shaped, are also much better suited for a contact lens prescription than a glasses prescription. Contacts are also a great option for patients with healthy eyes looking for convenience.

“There is no set age range,” Dr. Tinkler says. “Young children and elderly patients may benefit from freedom from glasses.”

For patients with active lifestyles and higher prescriptions, contact lenses may provide clearer vision than glasses, improve peripheral vision, and reduce the burden of heavy frames that can break or be lost.

Types of Contact Lenses

Many types of contact lenses are available depending on the patient’s visual and health requirements. Soft lenses, hard lenses (rigid gas permeable or RGP and scleral lenses) and hybrid lenses, which have a hard center and soft skirt, all offer advantages and disadvantages.

Soft lenses are made of flexible plastic. “Newer lens materials have been designed using various high-tech polymers such as silicone hydrogel that allow more oxygen to flow through the lens to reach the cornea and ensure improved ocular health,” Dr. Tinkler says.

Soft lenses have different replacement schedules based on their material and can be replaced daily, every two weeks, or monthly. Spherical (correcting one single power), toric (which corrects for astigmatism), and multifocal options are available, depending on the patient’s corrective needs.

Soft lenses tend to be more comfortable than RGP lenses, but they also pose a higher risk of bacterial infection and allergies. “I always recommended that my contact lens patients discontinue usage and return to the clinic if they notice redness or discomfort,” she says.

Near and Far Sightedness

Between ages 40 and 45, loss of elasticity of the lens of the eye, called presbyopia, begins to affect our near vision. Two types of contact lens correction are available to minimize the need for reading glasses. Monovision corrects one eye for distance vision and the other eye for near. Multifocal lenses, designed with concentric rings, provide varying depths of focus, allowing the wearer to see at close, far, and intermediate ranges.

Hard lenses are beneficial to those with irregularly shaped corneas because they change the shape of the cornea.

Who All Benefits from Contact Lenses

“Patients with keratoconus, pellucid marginal corneal degeneration, post-surgical corneas, and even patients with irregular corneal scarring all benefit from hard contact lenses to improve visual clarity,” Dr. Tinkler says.

Patients who are unable to tolerate RGPs may also benefit from a hybrid lens because the soft skirt improves comfort.

In addition to patients with irregularly shaped corneas, patients with severe dry eyes are good candidates for scleral lenses, which vault over the cornea and provide a layer of fluid over the corneal surface.

Dr. Tinkler says although these lenses tend to be more comfortable than a standard RGP, they’re more difficult to insert because they’re much larger. Scleral lenses can also be a financial burden because they require special insurance.

“Knowing which lens is best requires a thorough eye examination and a discussion with the patient about their visual goals,” says Dr. Tinkler, who fits all forms of contact lenses. “Contact lens technology continues to advance, helping us to achieve our ultimate goal, improving the quality of life for our patients.”


Dr. Tinkler sees patients at the Storm Eye Institute on the MUSC downtown campus, 167 Ashley Ave., and at MUSC Health Nexton Medical Park, 5500 Front St., in Summerville. To schedule an appointment, call 843.792.2020.