It had been a few years since I had seen an eye doctor. As a contact lens wearer, that's probably not a good thing as I'm more susceptible to infections and other eye dangers than those who wear glasses or need no correction. Moreover, I've been wearing the same pair of rigid gas permeable (RGP) lenses for almost 15 years. If RGP lenses can wear out (and there's some debate as to whether they actually do or not), my lenses were certainly prime candidates.
The good news was that, although I had some protein buildup on my lenses, my eyes were still mostly healthy and had changed very little since the last exam. The protein buildup did cause a little localized inflammation on a couple spots on my corneas, however. My new doctor recommended that I consider new lenses because of their advanced age and their propensity to hold on to gunk (my term, not his). He also mentioned that there was a relatively new RGP lens on the market that allows for 30 days of continuous wear.
Holy cow! Thirty days of continuous wear?
The new RGP lens from Menicon, called the Menicon Z, uses a new "hypertransmissible" material called fluro-siloxanylstyrene. This material is stronger than any other materials used to make RGP lenses, allowing the Menicon Z lens to be thinner and more comfortable to wear. In addition, it passes much more oxygen to the cornea, allowing for 30-day continuous wear. Whatever the material science behind this new lens, two studies published by the National Institutes of Health have shown that the lenses are as safe or safer than weekly soft disposable lenses.
Now, I've always loved my contacts because they don't get in the way like glasses do, especially when doing things like motorcycle riding, SCUBA diving, or any time I sweat a lot. Conversely, because I have to take them out every night and clean them, they're a pain when camping or otherwise away from the clean, civilized world overnight. Additionally, I've always worried about my ability to handle an emergency in the middle of the night. If there's a fire, an earthquake, a bear sniffing around my tent, or someone breaking into my home, the first thing I have to do is scramble to get my glasses on, otherwise I'm quite blind and useless. Not good!
The Menicon Z lens mostly solves this problem. While the FDA has approved the lenses for 30 days of continuous wear, my doctor (and Menicon itself) recommended taking them out once a week for a good cleaning. Even at this shorter interval, though, it means that I'll be able to see clearly six nights out of seven, and every night when I'm in the backcountry. What a wonderful improvement, and the cost of the lenses is an order of magnitude less than LASIK or other surgical fixes.
So, today is my first day wearing the Menicon Z. I need to build up to wearing them for a week at a time, but so far they fit and feel as good as or better than my old lenses. I'll post updates as the weeks go by. If you're a contact lens wearer I highly recommend that you talk with your eye doctor and see if these lenses might work for you, too.