Contact lens innovation

Advances in technology are transforming the contact lens industry and producing safer, more comfortable and innovative solutions to complex vision problems, writes Nicky Collinson

With augmented reality contact lenses in the pipeline, lenses that monitor eye disease and 3D lenses for gaming, nanotechnology is revolutionising the way we use contact lenses.

At the same time corrective contact lenses are helping wearers reach exceptional levels of visual acuity, eye health and comfort.

“The advent and popularity of one-day disposable soft contact lenses has made contact lens wear safer than ever before,” says leading London contact lens practitioner and past president of the British Contact Lens Association, Nigel Burnett Hodd.

“Today’s contact lens innovators are using high-tech materials and manufacturing techniques to solve complex vision problems with ever-safer, more reusable and more highly gas permeable contact lenses. Gone are the days of slow adaptation and weeping over weeks of perseverance – today’s lenses are quick and easy to get used to.”

In the past few months alone we have seen the launch of high-definition, ultra-stable toric contact lenses for people with astigmatism – a misshapen cornea that distorts vision – and the world’s first daily disposable silicone hydrogel contact lens to correct presbyopia (inability to focus on objects close up).

First launched in 1999, silicone hydrogel contact lenses are considered to be the gold standard for the industry because of their exceptional oxygen transmissibility – that is the amount of oxygen that passes through the lens to reach the cornea. When the cornea’s oxygen supply is significantly reduced – a condition called hypoxia – a number of problems may occur, such as red eyes, corneal swelling, blurred vision and eye discomfort.

There are now silicone hydrogel lenses with built-in UV blockers that protect the eyes from sun damage by covering the entire cornea and limbus, making them effective against light rays reflected from surfaces and peripheral rays that enter from the side.

Gone are the days of slow adaptation and weeping over weeks of perseverance – today’s lenses are quick and easy to get used to

Extended or continuous-wear silicone hydrogels can be worn overnight if your eyes are suitable and your optician recommends it, and there is now a monthly silicone hydrogel contact lens available in a staggering 17-million-plus parameters.

According to the Association of Contact Lens Manufacturers (ACLM), the number of people in the UK using silicone hydrogel contact lenses has increased by 10 per cent in the last 12 months alone, with 1.3 million out of a total 3.7 million contact lens wearers now choosing them.

Simon Rodwell, secretary general of the ACLM, says: “Contact lens technology is entering a golden age of innovation with lenses appealing to a much wider audience. Whether you need a large correction, are becoming presbyopic or have found them uncomfortable in the past, now may be the time to try again.

“New materials have already made a huge difference to comfort levels and in the future we will see contact lenses that slow down the effects of myopia in young people, others which carry pharmaceutical agents to the eye, some which will be able to act as diagnostic and disease-monitoring tools, and even contact lenses which have computer display capabilities.”

Following the recommendations of your optician, there’s no reason why you can’t benefit from contact lenses now and into the virtual-reality future.


Cutting-edge vision correction

Laser eye surgery is not for everyone, so it’s no surprise that more and more people are opting for implantable contact lenses to achieve freedom from glasses and traditional contact lenses.

Available in the UK since 1996, implantable contact lenses (ICLs) are at the cutting edge of vision correction.

Flexible, miniature contact lenses that are placed permanently between the iris and the eye’s natural lens, ICLs can correct short sight (myopia), severe long-sightedness (hyperopia) and astigmatism, where the cornea is misshapen causing blurred vision.

Working under a microscope, the eye surgeon will make a small incision where the cornea joins the white of the eye; the ICL is then folded up and injected before unfurling in front of the lens. Because the results are immediate ICLs can produce a real “wow” factor.

One of the UK’s leading ICL providers is Advanced Vision Care (AVC), in London’s Harley Street, which uses the Visian ICL.

AVC consultant surgeon Göran Helgason has carried out hundreds of procedures over the past 12 years and underwent treatment himself in 2004, of which he recalls: “The bright light from the operating table was the most disturbing thing about the procedure, but it was totally painless. I thought I’d be able to identify the different steps of the procedure, having done hundreds myself, but all I could sense was a shimmer and of looking into a headlight from under water.

“It took about 10 minutes to do both eyes and after a short test I was allowed to leave. I even went shopping for a pair of sunglasses on the way home. The same evening I could read the subtitles on my television without correction – for the first time in my adult life.”

Eight years on, Dr Helgason is still seeing clearly the advantages of ICLs – through his and his patients’ eyes.