In recent years, contact lenses have been characterized more by their difficulty of use rather than their vision benefits. How many times have you heard friends discuss how hard their lenses are to put in, rather than the joy of the clear vision they experience?

Contacts Still Relevant

It’s time to rid ourselves of the misinformation. Contact lenses evolved over the years to become absolute best way to achieve vision correction. They are better for your eyes, more comfortable to wear, easier to care for, able to work with dry eyes and provide vision for many people. Even the older forms of hard contact lenses have benefited from updates in production and technological advancements. Even hard lenses are more comfortable thanks to these advances.

Today, the contact lens market is a large and growing industry, with more than 38 million Americans who wear contact lenses, compared with 140 million-plus who still use eyeglasses.

Continual innovation amid strong business opportunity is likely among the reasons that health care giant and managed care provider WellPoint agreed to pay about $900 million for the world’s largest eyeglass and contact lens retailer, 1-800 Contacts, earlier this year (the deal is scheduled to be approved in the third quarter of 2012). According to the New York Times, it was one of the health care insurance giant’s recent moves to owning brands that help it to increase its interaction with customers.

Contact lenses have been around since the late 1800s, but the introduction of the soft contact lens in the 1970s marked the advent of the modern contact lens. Since then, contact lenses have continued to advance in innovative ways. New technologies have made product development possible, such as one-day disposable soft lenses, bifocal contact lenses and even custom-made silicon hydrogel lenses.

Lens Enhancements

Some of these products are truly groundbreaking. For instance, one-day disposable soft lenses have been in use for a few years now, but recent technological advancements have helped its growth. Scientists at Ohio State University’s School of Optometry earlier this year announced its new one-day contact lenses made up of 78 percent water, which is the same amount of water found in the eye’s cornea. The one-day lenses allow for healthy comfortable wear and a steady stream of oxygen to the eye. This advancement could prompt greater use of disposable lenses.

Becoming popular for those in the 40-60 age range is the use of bifocal and multifocal lenses. These are good options for active adults who engage in physical activities but need to wear their bi-focal glasses for top performance. In active team sports, the glasses aren’t a viable option, and the lenses can help to clarify the bi-focal vision needs.

Custom-made silicone hydrogel lenses are the latest technological advancement to hit contact lenses. According to All About Vision, silicone hydrogel lenses are the most popular in the United States, accounting for 67 percent of contact lens fittings in 2011, followed by regular soft hydrogel lenses (24 percent), rigid gas-permeable contacts and hybrid contact lenses.

Using more water and hydrogen in contact lens production is appealing to consumers. This is especially true of silicone hydrogel contact lenses, which benefit the human cornea’s need for oxygen to maintain eye health and vision. Silicone hydrogels have less water content than normal soft lenses, so they can be good contact lenses for dry eyes. If you are experiencing dryness with standard soft contact lenses, especially toward the end of the day, your eye doctor may recommend switching to silicone hydrogel lenses.

The Future of Vision

As the decade rolls on, many in the contact lens industry are looking to merge its technology with that of futuristic tech visions. Many eyebrows were raised in 2012 when hearing about Google Glasses, a new prototype of Internet-enabled eyeglasses, but perhaps the future of contact lenses merged with augmented reality in the form of Google glasses or something similar is not as far off as one might imagine.

Can augmented reality be connected with everyday contact lenses? Such a result would display images directly on a person’s eye, while still allowing clear distance vision. If successful, virtual reality could grow in the form of many new applications for such advanced technology within the next decade.

In fact, vision’s future may be in a contact lens. A company named Innovega is developing a contact lens called the iOptik lens, which is said to provide the crucial step necessary to perceive an augmented, superimposed 3-D virtual reality. With these contact lenses, writes Walter Hickey at Business Insider, the user can view the world naturally. One’s eyes can move normally and there aren’t any cumbersome goggles to hinder movement or perception.

Whether you suffer from nearsighted vision or farsighted vision, you can likely benefit by wearing some of the new types of contact lenses on the market. Contact lenses can correct a person’s astigmatism, while others can gain the pleasure of solid new vision.