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Riding and contact lenses

From: Sara Jean

Dear Jessica, I know this isn't exactly a horse question but it's something that's a real problem for me. It's also a problem for a lot of other riders I see at shows, I know because we talk about it between classes. I have really bad eyesight, not just bad so that I need glasses to read fine print, like my mother, but REALLY BAD so that if I don't have my glasses on I can't tell which horse is which. In fact most of the time I don't even know which person is which unless they are wearing bright colors and I can remember who is wearing what color. That's how bad my eyesight is. I wear glasses all the time from the second I wake up and put them on until the last thing at night before I go to sleep.

I tried contact lenses a long time ago before they made soft lenses that could correct astigmatism, and I loved the idea but the lenses hurt my eyes all the time and that's without getting any dust or dirt on them. Whenever I would wear them to the barn I would get dust or dirt or a horse would flick its tail and I would get tail hair across my eyes and those lenses hurt so bad I thought I was going to die. Also they would just sort of pop out of my eyes sometimes and then I couldn't see, and that was scary too. Now that there are all these new soft lenses that my eye doctor says would probably work great for me, I would like to try again, but I'm scared because I can still remember the eye pain from being at the barn with my hard lenses. But it would be so wonderful to be able to stop worrying about losing or breaking my glasses, and also not have to worry about eye pain from contacts.

Some of the kids who board at my barn are just in their teens and they wear the new soft lenses and never seem to have any problems, but probably their eyesight is better than mine. Sara Jean


Hi Sara Jean! Lucky you, I'm a good person to ask about this because I know exactly what you're talking about. Been there, done that, can still remember the eye pain. I wore hard contact lenses for more years than I want to think about, and I wear the soft ones now. There's no comparison. If your doctor thinks that you're a good candidate for soft lenses, by all means have a go.

Glasses have drawbacks - they slide down your nose when you get sweaty, you have to clean them constantly, and they're often very delicate - careless cleaning can scratch them, and the frames don't stand up well to, say, being stepped on... by a human or a horse. Contact lenses also have drawbacks, but not as many! And believe me, there's a world of difference between your old, hard contact lenses and the soft ones that your doctor has recommended to you.

There will still be dust at the barn and at shows, and you will still get dust in your eyes and on your lenses, but if your experience is like mine, you'll be able to blink the dust away or wash it away with a squirt from a bottle of lens solution. You just won't get (and you certainly won't miss) that killer eye pain that accompanies every grain of dust when you wear hard contacts, and that won't even let you THINK about anything else until you've removed the dust (which almost always involves removing the lens and cleaning it). I'm still amazed when the dust begins to blow around my face and nothing gets in my eyes - or when dust gets into my eyes and I can just BLINK and it's gone.

Useful tips, hmmmm... try these:

Sunglasses, especially the wraparound kind, will help a lot if you're in an area where there's a lot of wind and dust.

Your doctor may recommend a particular brand of lens solutions, and suggest that you look for that same brand whenever you buy eyedrops, artificial tears, rewetting drops, etc. That's good advice. You may, however, need to use a different brand to the one your doctor first recommends; some people cannot tolerate the preservatives in some lens solutions and eyedrops, so keep that in mind.

Don't try to save money by buying the largest size of every bottle of lens solution, eyedrops, etc. It can be a false economy. You'll use up the contents of a small bottle sooner, but that's fine - there's a much better chance of the solution staying fresh and clean and uncontaminated if you buy the smaller bottles. And the small bottles can go anywhere, which is another advantage.

Keep a small bottle of solution and an extra lens case on hand - in fact, keep several bottles and lens cases available. If you have one in your car's glove box, one in your tack locker, one in your belt-pack for trail riding, and one in your purse, you'll feel more secure. (This is also a good strategy for other essential items such as epi-pens and asthma inhalers - anything you absolutely wouldn't want to be without.) If you show, keep a tiny bottle in the pocket of your jacket.

Be absolutely honest with your doctor about how comfortable your new lenses are. If your reaction is "I can't even tell there's anything in my eye," that's great. If your reaction is "This isn't really comfortable, but it's much better than the hard lenses," then you need to try some different types and brands of lenses - and continue trying different ones until you find the ones that are the best fit and the most comfortable FOR YOU. Don't assume that you need Brand X or Brand Y just because (a) it's the only brand you've heard of, or (b) it's what the kids at the barn wear, or (c) it's the first one your doctor has you try, and even though it's not REALLY comfortable, it's clearly better than your old lenses.

Overall, I think you're going to be delighted with the improved comfort that goes along with your improved vision. Definitely give soft contact lenses a try! When I wore hard contact lenses, I had all of the same problems you mention above, and I wouldn't have recommended them to riders as a good alternative to eyeglasses. But the soft contacts are in a different league - these are a real boon to riders. ;-)

Good luck, and please let me know how your new contact lenses work out for you!

Jessica

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