My life with contacts

Helet Merkling worked for many years as a human rights lawyer. She still does legal work with her husband, lives in Cape Town, and they have two young children. She started wearing contact lenses when she was a student and has done so for the past 22 years.

Why I decided to get contact lenses

I got contact lenses almost twenty years ago, when I was a university student. How I realised that I needed them was that I had difficulty recognising my friends across the street – and that at the socially crucial age of 20. Furthermore, being quite keen on sport, missing the tennis ball on court was also problematic.

Glasses, I thought, would make me look too studious, so I settled on contact lenses. All the studying was definitely hard on my eyesight. I also, like most people who wear contact lenses, had a pair of glasses as a backup.

Which type of lenses do I use and why?

At the recommendation of my opthalmologist, I use disposable, soft contact lenses. These I only wear while I am awake. Or if I go out at night – I always take them out while I am sleeping.

What was it like using them at first?

A whole new world literally opened before my eyes, when I started using contact lenses. I could participate more easily in sport, recognise my friends again across the street, dance more easily and see where I was going without the weight of glasses resting on my brow, and also the red ridge across the bridge of the nose.

I was a bit jittery putting anything into my eye at first, but very quickly got used to the contact lenses – it became a part of my every day life that I did not give much thought.

Problems I am experiencing in using them

I am soon abandoning my contact lenses in favor of contact- and glasses -free laser eye surgery, because I seem to have developed an allergic reaction to the contact lens solution, which burns and stings my eyes.

Inexplicably, medical aid also does not cover contact lens solution at all, leaving wearers to bear the brunt of the cost. In the long run laser surgery will also cost less than continuing to wear contact lenses.

If I get conjunctivitis, there is dust or wind, or dry weather conditions, my eyes are uncomfortable with contact lenses and I am obliged to wear my glasses. You also can't cry easily when you wear contact lenses, because of the risk of losing them in a pool of tears.

Advantages of wearing contact lenses

There are quite a few advantages to wearing contact lenses. One of them is freedom movement, without worrying that glasses might fall off. It is also easy to apply makeup –something which is difficult to do when you are wearing glasses. The other great advantage of contact lenses is that you can wear sunglasses of your choice, which you cannot do if you wear glasses.

Tips for other users of contact lenses 

  • Never go to sleep with your contact lenses
  • Read more:
    How does a contact lens work?
    How to insert your contact lens
    How to remove your contact lenses
    Can they damage my eyes?

    Useful resources:
    South African Optometric Association
    Tel: 011 805 4517
    South African National Council for the Blind
    Tel: 012 452 3811
    Retina South Africa
    Tel: 011 622 4904
    Ophthalmological Society of South Africa

    • Always follow your contact lense instructions with care
    • Never use water or any other liquid to ease the wear of scratchy lenses
    • Stick to your opthalmologist’s recommendations
    • Go for regular checkups
    • Choose eye make-up carefully and at all costs stay away from flaky mascara
    • Carry your glasses with you in case of an emergency - you could lose your contact lenses.
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