Contact lens wear induces a wide spectrum of changes in the appearance and function of the cornea. The most salient effect of lens wear is the hypoxically induced reduction in the rate of metabolic activity of the corneal epithelium and its sequellae. Other important alterations to corneal health associated with contact lens wear may be caused by antigenic and toxic stimuli, mechanical forces, osmotic effects and carbon dioxide retention. Perhaps the most important task facing the contact lens clinician is to distinguish between an acceptable state of physiological modification and an anomalous or pathological state of hypofunction. In this article, we review the assortment of corneal changes primarily on the basis of the causative agents and time scale with reference to the physical and chemical processes leading to the observed signs or symptoms. This procedure allows a strong foundation for understanding the etiology and management principles for the variety of effects that contact lenses may have on the cornea.