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What Are Specialty Contact Lenses?

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A woman putting in a contact lens.

Contact lens options appear to be limitless. While soft contact lenses are the most popular among patients and eye care professionals, numerous other contact lens options can provide comfortable, clear vision.

Rigid gas permeable lenses, as well as newer scleral or hybrid lenses, are commonly used to provide visual correction for those who struggle with soft contact lenses.

Specialty contact lenses can help with everything from improving symptoms of Dry Eye Disease to providing clear vision to people with a higher degree of astigmatism. They’re designed for patients with corneal conditions or other eye issues for which conventional contacts are ineffective.

Rigid Gas Permeable Lenses

RGP lenses are made of firm, oxygen-permeable material and have several advantages over traditional soft contact lenses. It may appear that “soft” is the natural choice for something that will come into contact with your eye, but this isn’t always the case.

RGP lenses were the first type of lenses prescribed to patients suffering from conditions such as keratoconus. They are also used for higher prescriptions and greater amounts of astigmatism.

RGP lenses are oxygen-permeable, allowing air to pass through and allowing your eyes to “breathe.” Because the materials used to make these lenses allow more oxygen to pass through, they provide a better oxygen supply.

Furthermore, because they are smaller than soft lenses and thus cover less of the surface of the eye, they allow moisture and oxygen to circulate beneath the lens, making them a good option for people suffering from Dry Eye Disease.

Scleral Contact Lenses

Scleral contact lenses are larger in diameter than traditional contacts, but instead of sitting directly on the surface of the eye, they vault over it, leaving a gap between the cornea and the lens.

Scleral lenses are an effective solution for a variety of issues that make wearing regular contact lenses impractical or impossible.

The space allows patients with corneal abnormalities such as keratoconus or surgical scarring to wear contact lenses. It also serves as a reservoir for tear film, keeping it on the surface of the eyes for longer and alleviating dry eye symptoms.

Soft Contact Lenses

Toric Lenses

Toric lenses are appropriate for people who have:

These specialty soft contacts are shaped differently than standard lenses, which have a more beachball appearance. The toric lens is geometrically shaped to create refractive strength depending on how you move. These lenses are ideal for people with astigmatism because they conform to the exact curvature of your eye.


Soft multifocal lenses can be used to treat both astigmatism and presbyopia. Some styles can be worn for up to a week without being removed, while others must be removed every night. Some lenses are disposable, which means you replace them every day, while others require daily lens care.

Multifocal contact lenses on the tip of an index finger.

Multifocal lenses have different areas of the lens that are used for near and far vision. The wearer learns to use the area that provides the best vision for the distance automatically. They usually have distance vision in the center of the lens and near vision on the edges, but this can be reversed.


Hybrid lenses combine the best of both worlds in a single lens with a rigid center surrounded by a soft lens skirt. These lenses offer the comfort of soft lenses as well as the visual quality of RGP lenses.

Hybrid lenses are ideal for patients who have corneal astigmatism or presbyopia with astigmatism; they also work well for people who have difficulty achieving optimal vision with soft lenses or are concerned about the comfort of RGP lenses.

Advantages of Hybrid Lenses


RGP lenses are typically not as comfortable as hybrid lenses. While many people wear hard contact lenses without issue daily, others are bothered by the sensation of these lenses in their eyes.

People with highly irregular corneas in particular find it difficult to adjust to the sensation of rigid lenses. Hybrid lenses provide a more comfortable compromise on the eye and are more comfortable to wear for extended periods.


Soft lenses are not as stable as hybrid lenses. Because the center of a hybrid lens is made of rigid material, it doesn’t change shape when placed on the ocular surface and can help to neutralize corneal irregularities.

This stability reduces or eliminates the issue of soft lenses moving around or adopting an irregular corneal shape, resulting in uncorrected irregular astigmatism. 

Which Specialty Contact Lens Will Work for You?

The only way to truly know if RGP, soft, or hybrid contact lenses are right for you is to have a thorough contact lens exam and fitting at Specialty Eye. Book an appointment with us, our team will work closely with you to determine your concerns and how contact lenses can best meet your needs.

Written by Dr. David Kading

Dr. Kading is active in various dry eye, contact lens, and contact lens solution research studies, and is a consultant and key opinion leader for several eye care manufacturers. He writes articles and has performed hundreds of lectures nationally and internationally on the topics of keratoconus, irregular corneas, dry eye, anterior segment disease, contact lenses, contact lens solutions, and practice management.

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