Specialty Contact Lenses

Vision Correction for Corneal Irregularities

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Vision correction can be difficult when the surface of your eye (the cornea) is irregular due to disease, trauma, or other conditions. Glasses and standard contact lenses may not adequately improve your eyesight. Specialty contact lenses may help you see more clearly by creating a smoother eye surface, which helps to focus light. They can also provide relief from discomfort associated with dry eyes and improve the appearance of disfigured eyes.

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Are Specialty Contact Lenses Right for You?

Properly fitted specialty contact lenses may improve your eyesight, even if you have been told that vision correction with traditional contact lenses or glasses will not work for you. People with the following conditions may benefit from specialty contact lenses.

Corneal Diseases

Some corneal diseases affect the shape of the cornea and can cause vision loss. For instance, in keratoconus a thinning cornea makes the eye bulge outward, resulting in blurred vision and light sensitivity. Pellucid marginal degeneration causes the cornea to deteriorate and leads to painless vision loss.

Previous Eye Surgery

Procedures such as corneal transplant or vision correction surgery (radial keratotomy and LASIK surgery) change the shape of the eye, making it hard for a traditional contact lens to stay in place.

Corneal Infection or Trauma

Eye infections and injuries can permanently scar or otherwise change the shape of the cornea.

Severe Dry Eyes

Severe dry eyes can cause redness, irritation, and eye pain.

Damaged or Sensitive Eyes

Eye damage may be a result of a birth defect, trauma, or a disease. People with albinism or a condition such as aniridia -- a missing or malformed iris -- can be especially sensitive to light and glare.

Duke Eye Center

Learn about the care offered here so you can prepare for your appointments.

Specialty Contact Lens Exam, Fitting, and Follow-Up

Being evaluated and fitted for specialty contact lens is a more involved and time-consuming process than for glasses or traditional contact lenses. We conduct an extensive evaluation that may take over an hour to complete. It will include a complete medical history and an examination of your eyes.

Specialty Contact Lens Exam

Your doctor will test your vision and assess your eye health. Measurements of your eye’s shape and curvature help determine the appropriate shape and size of your contact lenses. Your eyes' ability to produce tears will also be evaluated.

Specialty Contact Lens Fitting

The contact lenses will be placed in your eyes. After a few minutes of wearing them, your eyes will be checked to assess the fit and their positions in your eyes. Your doctor will make any necessary adjustments, which may require you to try several sets of lenses. You will then have a refraction test to measure your vision and determine the correct prescription for your contact lenses.

Follow-Up Appointments

During your follow-up appointment, you will receive your contact lenses and be taught how to insert and remove them. Your doctor will ensure that they fit properly and that your prescription provides you with the best possible vision. Any necessary adjustments will be made to your lenses. You will return one month later so your doctor can check your progress.

Specialty Contact Lens Options

Your doctor will discuss the contact lens options available to you.

Scleral Contact Lenses

Unlike most contact lenses, scleral contact lenses do not touch the cornea. These hard lenses are larger in diameter -- about the size of a dime -- and rest on the white of the eye (the sclera). The space between the scleral lens and the cornea is filled with saline, which helps the eye stay lubricated and comfortable.

Rigid Gas Permeable Contact Lenses

Also known as RGP contact lenses, they mask an irregular cornea and create a smooth eye surface. RGP lenses are made of durable plastics that allow oxygen to pass through the lens, which is important for corneal health.

Hybrid Contact Lenses

Hybrid contact lenses have a hard, gas-permeable center and soft edges. People with vision problems such as irregular astigmatism or minor corneal irregularities may achieve sufficient vision correction with hybrid contacts, which are more comfortable than traditional gas permeable contacts.

Prosthetic Contact Lenses

If one or both eyes is damaged from a birth defect, disease, or trauma to the eye, tinted specialty contact lenses may help improve your appearance and vision. They can also increase eye comfort by blocking light and glare.

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Why Choose Duke for Specialty Contact Lenses

Experts in Specialty Contact Lenses

Our clinic is solely dedicated to fitting specialty contact lenses. Our contact lens experts have decades of experience in the techniques and technologies required to properly fit specialty contact lenses. We stay up to date on the latest contact lens options and use advanced equipment to achieve the best contact lens fit possible.

A Personal Approach

Not being able to see clearly is stressful and can limit your daily activities. We work with you to establish realistic goals and help you achieve the best vision possible. Our staff provides individualized training on how to take care of your new contact lenses -- and your eyes.

Dedicated Financial Coordinators

If your prescription or eye disease cannot be managed with glasses or standard contact lenses, specialty contact lenses may be medically necessary. Many insurance companies cover the costs of medically necessary lenses. Our financial coordinator can help you manage any paperwork required by your insurance company.

Consistently Ranked Among the Nation’s Best Hospitals

Duke University Hospital is proud of our team and the exceptional care they provide. They are why we are once again recognized as the best hospital in North Carolina, and nationally ranked in 10 adult and 9 pediatric specialties by U.S. News & World Report for 2023–2024.

This page was medically reviewed on 10/05/2022 by