Contact lenses and sport

According to Sport England, some 15.5 million people now play sport at least once a week. Whatever your chosen sport or level, wearing the best form of vision correction can help you achieve the best possible performance and enjoyment.

Elite athletes often have high visual demands and there is some evidence that optimal vision correction can enhance sporting performance, even with very low levels of short and long sight. Correcting small amounts of astigmatism, or short or long sight in one eye, may also be beneficial.

Types of contact lenses for sport

When choosing the best type of contact lenses for sport, many factors need to be taken into account, including the length of time it takes to play, the environment and physical demands, such as body contact and extreme eye and body movements.

Soft lenses are generally considered best for sport as they move less on the eye than rigid gas permeable (RGP) lenses and are less likely to be dislodged. RGP lenses are not suitable for contact sports, such as rugby. For sports that are particularly dynamic, such as tennis, the extra stability of soft lenses is also advisable. Daily disposable soft lenses offer many advantages. Some sports are played in dirty environments with potential for lens contamination and handling problems.

Daily disposables are discarded after each use and are particularly suited to part-time wear. They're also convenient, as cleaning solutions are not needed. If re-usable lenses rather than daily disposables are worn but not used every day, don't forget they need to be cleaned and disinfected after each use.

For endurance events − such as mountaineering, ocean racing and rally driving − and in environments where lens handling is impractical, lenses approved for extended or flexible wear may be advised, in which case highly oxygen-permeable silicone hydrogel lenses should be worn.

Your eyecare practitioner will discuss these options with you to find the best solution for your chosen sport and individual needs. An alternative for some sports might be orthokeratology, where specially designed RGP lenses are worn during sleep then removed during the day. The lenses temporarily alter the shape of the front of the eye and therefore temporarily correct the visual disorder for the duration of the day. This negates the need for spectacle or contact lenses during waking hours.

Sport is often a factor in the choice to opt for refractive surgery. As with any choice of vision correction, it's important to consider the pros and cons and to discuss these with your eyecare practitioner. Potential concerns for the athlete are dry eye symptoms, visual disturbances (glare and haloes) and complications from trauma.

Your practitioner can also advise you on any regulations governing your sport. In some sports, such as rugby, glasses are not allowed and in others, such as amateur boxing, neither glasses nor contact lenses can be worn. In karate, soft lenses are the only contact lenses of choice. Protective eyewear is also either mandatory or recommended for some sports, such as squash. Remember that you should not use contact lenses for swimming or water sports unless you wear tight-fitting goggles over the top and ultimately the lenses should be immediately discarded after the activity.

Ask your eyecare practitioner to help you decide which type of contact lenses is best suited to your sport and lifestyle.