According to leading eyecare industry research firm Jobson Research, 6 in 10 people in the U.S. need vision correction. That means approximately 72% of adults (age 18 and older) need vision correction. As the Baby Boomer bubble continues to age, the number of 40-something adults that will creep into this category will increase due to the inevitable onslaught of presbyopia – an age-related condition that causes difficulty focusing at close range.
Until recently, wearing glasses was the only non-surgical option for roughly 80%-85% of those needing vision correction, with contact lenses accounting for only 15%-20% of the vision correction prescribed. In the early days of contact lenses, wearers had to tolerate rigid, uncomfortable lenses that were rather expensive and not very conducive to an active lifestyle. Those days are long gone.
Today, new materials and technologies have made wearing contact lenses a real possibility for nearly all of the vision corrected population. Today’s contact lens manufacturers have developed new lenses to correct most vision disorders, including myopia (nearsightedness – difficulty seeing objects at a distance), hyperopia (farsightedness – difficulty seeing near objects), astigmatism (astigmatism means that the cornea is oval like a football instead of spherical like a basketball – this causes light to focus on more than one point in the eye, resulting in blurred vision.), and presbyopia.
Contact lenses have historically been able to correct myopia and hyperopia, but an irregular shaped cornea had made fitting contact lenses either very expensive or somewhat problematic, until recently. Similar issues arose when trying to fit contact lenses for a bifocal spectacle wearer (presbyopia). However, new technologies have made fitting these conditions commonplace. The fitting process is more involved, and as such, you can expect the professional fees and the cost of the lenses to be a little higher than the standard one-size-fits-most spherical lens, but the trade-offs for most wearers who now can experience the freedom from glasses is well worth it.
A note of caution here: not all eyecare professionals are equally skilled when it comes to fitting “specialty” contact lenses. Some of these may even tell you that you are not a good candidate because they lack the proper skills to fit you properly. In some cases, there may be a medical reason why you are not a good candidate, such as chronic dry eye. In such cases, it is not a bad idea to have your eyecare professional provide you a written list of contraindications to contact lens wear and then get a second opinion from a contact lens specialist.
Another development worthy of mention here is the advent of silicone hydrogel contact lens materials. Contact lenses made from a silicone hydrogel material allow significantly higher oxygen transmissibility (Dk/t) through the lens to your eye. This means the wearing experience is healthier and generally more comfortable than lower Dk/t conventional hydrogel contact lenses. Additionally, many silicone hydrogel contact lenses are FDA approved for “continuous wear.” This means it is okay to sleep in them without the risk of doing damage to your eyes.
There are currently two brands of silicone hydrogel contact lenses approved for up to 30 days and nights of continuous wear: CIBA Vision’s Night & Day and Bausch & Lomb’s PureVision contact lenses. Night & Day lenses have the highest oxygen transmissibility of any lens currently on the market and are available to correct myopia, hyperopia and mild-to-moderate astigmatism. PureVision’s lenses have a lower Dk/t, but are available in spheres (corrects myopia, hyperopia and mild-to-moderate astigmatism), torics (to correct astigmatism) and multifocals (to correct presbyopia).
If you are new to contact lenses, or even a veteran wearer of conventional hydrogels, talk to your eye doctor and let them know you are interested in silicone hydrogel options. Even if you are happy wearing a lower Dk/t lens, the long-term health benefits to getting more oxygen to your cornea outweighs the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Transitioning from a lower Dk/t lens to a high Dk/t silicone hydrogel may take from a few days to a few weeks until your eyes adjust to the different feel of these lenses plus the new infusion of oxygen that they have not been used to with conventional hydrogels.
Silicone hydrogel contact lenses have been touted as the single most important development in contact lenses in the past 20 years by several leading medical experts in the field. With so many positive new technologies and materials available, now is a good time to visit your eye doctor and see if contact lenses are right for you. Chances are good that you will be able to say goodbye to glasses and hello to freedom.