Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Glance at Eyewear

I've worn glasses since high school. For years they were just for reading. Then about twelve years ago, after admitting to my optometrist that street signs had become metal flags with squiggles on them, I got my first pair of bifocals. They weren't the old-fashioned kind with the half-moon of fun-house glass at the bottom. No. These were transitional lenses. You'd never know they're bifocal! There's no line, no "jump" from near- to far-view.

But any glasses are uncomfortable. Mine pinch the ears if they're not aligned just right. Even when they are aligned properly, they leave a gruesome indent on one side of my nose which, until wearing glasses fulltime, I hadn't realized was crooked. Glasses fog up in cold weather and slide down the nose when it's hot. They smudge and get splattered. And, because bifocals narrow a person's field of view, driving is a challenge – to check the blind-spot I have to swivel my whole upper torso, just so the bifocals align enough to see clearly. Then, there are those mishaps, with glasses either on or off, which bend or scratch them. Several months ago I tripped and fell, my forehead last to touch down, and my glasses splayed flat upon impact. The skewed focal point, hopelessly lost despite taking them in for realignment, still gives me headaches. It's time again to get new glasses. Transitional lenses, however, are pricey.

Three years ago, after whinging to my optometrist about these issues, he convinced me to give contacts a try. I was resistant to wearing contacts, though. As a teenager, I'd almost gouged my eye out when an ophthalmologist attempted to position a retinal scanner on my eye. So the thought of purposefully trying to place something onto my eye, daily, worried me. Obviously familiar with skittish patients, his employee was very understanding, and after only a half hour of training I was able to put the contacts in and take them out again. It wasn't nearly as hard as I'd imagined. Wearing them was no problem, either. I expected to feel the lens with every blink but they effectively disappeared. The only time I feel the lens is when it dries out (usually after many hours of wear) or is inserted backwards (an easy fix.)

Best of all, the new lenses gave me back youthful vision. It's a fantastic feeling not to wear glasses yet see the world without blur. I still need reading glasses for small print, but non-prescription eyewear, available in many stores, is sufficient. So I began wearing contacts frequently and discovered benefits I wanted to share.

First, contact lenses are relatively inexpensive. My last pair of transitional bifocals cost about $800 and, due to deteriorating vision, I required a new prescription every 2 years at which time that cost has usually risen due to inflation. On the other hand, the contact lenses I use cost $20 per box of six and, because I require different prescriptions for each eye, two boxes are needed at one time. Each contact lens can be worn for about 3 weeks (20-21 days) so two boxes of six contacts will last about four months, if worn daily. (I'll note here that optometrists recommend giving eyes a day or two of rest from contact wear every few weeks, at least. However, for the purposes of this calculation, I've overlooked that recommendation though its compliance decreases these costs to some degree, depending on how long and frequent "rest periods" are.) So, given the price noted above, over two years, (of daily wear) contacts cost me about $240. Cleaning solution is required and that adds another $120-140. The drugstore "cheater" glasses I use were $20, so now the cost of wearing contacts for two years is $380-400. Three years, $560-590.

The best thing about contacts is their comfort. They don't pinch, fog up, smudge or get splattered. They don't mark my crooked nose. They stay atop the iris, so wherever the eye travels the contact travels too. It makes a world of difference when driving. No more swivelling my head like a possessed Linda Blair when checking my blind-spot. A simple glance over my shoulder suffices.

The most unexpected benefit of wearing contacts regularly has been to extend my need for a new prescription from 2 years to 3-4 years. This effectively decreased my prescription eyewear costs, too. I don't understand why this is but I have noticed that, after wearing contacts steadily for several days in a row, my vision actually improves. So much so, my need to wear "cheaters" lessens and they rarely get taken out of their case. Even with contacts out for the night, I can read the clock on my nightstand! Whatever the reason for this marvel, it's wonderful to see without glasses.

Wearing contacts hasn't eliminated my need for prescription glasses, though. Due to those rest periods, they're still needed. However, it's less expensive to by traditional bifocals or two pair of regular lens glasses – one pair for normal vision and another for reading and fine work – than buying a pair of transitional bifocals. If I were choosing glasses to wear daily, 365 days a year, I'd still prefer the transitional lenses because I'd quickly tire of having to switch glasses constantly or experience the visual "jump" with traditional bifocals. However, now that I'm a convert to regular contact wear, these other options seem more viable. Glasses will be worn so infrequently.