Synopsis: Thirty million Americans wear contact lenses, but today’s high tech lenses are vastly superior to those of a few decades ago. Even so, most contact wearers don’t maintain their lenses correctly. An expert explains.
Host: Nancy Benson. Guest: Dr. April Jasper, Optometrist, West Palm Beach, FL
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New Tech In Contact Lenses
Nancy Benson: About 30 million Americans wear contact lenses. Roughly two-thirds of them are women. And why not, since today you can completely change your look and your eye color with a pair of contacts. But there are other good reasons, too.
Dr. April Jasper: Most people choose to wear contact lenses because it gives them freedom from glasses and they will attain better peripheral vision, sometimes better vision overall, because there’s no distortions with contact lenses as you might have with glasses. Contact lenses are fun, they are cosmetically appealing and they allow even children to be able to participate in athletic events in a much simpler manner as well.
Benson: That’s West Palm Beach, Florida, optometrist Dr. April Jasper. She says contact lenses have come a long way the last few decades. New materials mean that the biggest complaint about contacts no longer applies.
Jasper: I remember my father getting contact lenses back in the ‘70s and at that time contacts were hard contacts and they were tremendously uncomfortable until you got used to them. Technology has really advanced to the point where now contact lenses are such that if you get some of the newer technology lenses that are water gradient, you can’t even feel them in your eyes. What’s amazing is patients telling me, “I didn’t wear contact lenses before because I could feel them at the end of the day. My vision wouldn’t be perfect at the end of the day, and I just felt like I had to rip them out by five, six o’clock.” Now things are completely different. You can get contact lenses where patients come in the next day and say it’s incredible, I took those lenses out at midnight, threw them away because single-use lenses are the up and coming thing, and then today put a fresh pair in and they feel the same this morning with my new pair as I did last night when I threw those away.
Benson: Throwing those lenses away is important if they’re daily disposables. Jasper says they’re so comfortable that some people might be tempted to stretch them out and use them again. A lot of contacts are designed to be worn that way — every day for a longer time period — but daily disposables are exactly that.
Jasper: Compliance is extremely important. These newer contact lenses that are single use they’re not made to touch solution. Solution can be harmful to them; can change the properties of the lens, so it’s really important that… and most of my patients understand if their going to have that same experience one day after the next, then they have to follow the process for disposing of that lens and putting a new one in. And when you’re really thinking about it if you are using the lens over and over, I tell my patients I use the analogy of having a bath in the same bathwater night after night, which would really be disgusting.
Benson: Disgusting? Yes. But very, very common.
Jasper: Unfortunately, people get confused with what the rules are and best practices are for good contact lens care. So there’ll be patients that come in and tell me that they forget they’re not supposed to wear certain lenses overnight or one of the biggest concerns we have is when patients don’t realize they’re supposed to use new fresh solution every time they take their lenses out and store them. So when things like that go wrong and people forget or never maybe understood completely how to take care of their lenses it can result in serious eye damage, infection and even loss of vision. So, it’s really important that patients understand proper lens care, that they’re fit properly with good lenses. Not all lenses are good for all people.
Benson: In fact, Jasper says studies show about 85% of contact wearers are doing something wrong with how they take care of their reusable lenses.
Jasper: It’s very likely that people get complacent. They don’t have a problem with their contact lenses for a number of days, maybe even a number of years and think that they’re immune to these problems or maybe that we’re over estimating the problems and the risk. So they don’t take their lens care seriously. I think it is very possible that people just don’t understand the risks and until it happens to you or me, it’s difficult to really understand how big of a problem it can be. The trouble is when something does go wrong it can go very wrong and end up with serious consequences.
Benson: That’s a big reason why lenses worn for a few weeks at a time, or even longer, are becoming less popular. For a lot of people, they’re too much to take care of.
Jasper: Most patients wear disposable contact lenses, which means they throw them away at some time period, whatever is determined to be FDA approved for that product. I would say in this day and age in the United States we have about 20% of patients that are in daily disposable lenses. In some other countries it’s a much higher number; we just tend to be, in the U.S. we tend to be a little slower to move forward with some of these newer amazing technologies that are available. Doctors want a healthy lens that provides good vision for patients. Patients want a comfortable lens. New technology really combines all three of those things — healthy because it lets more oxygen through. Again that’s a number one priority for me as your doctor maintaining your vision for a lifetime. Two, making certain that you can see the best as possible. And then, three, making certain that you can wear the lens comfortably, because any one of those three things are going to be a knockout factor.
Benson: But what is it about these new lenses that make them so good?
Jasper: Sometimes it’s what’s not in the lens that makes it comfortable and in the case of the newer technologies they just work. Every company really has worked very diligently to come up with a solution to the problem of end of day comfort. If you ask patients what the biggest problem they have with contact lenses is, it’s not typically vision, it’s the fact that at the end of the day they can’t wear them, they’re not comfortable with them. The newer technologies, one specifically is a water gradient technology, so it’s a contact lens that is encapsulated in water so by the time you put this lens on honestly as soon as you put it in the biggest comment I get from patients, which is such a fun thing to hear is, “Oh my goodness, Dr. Jasper, I don’t even know I have a lens in. I wouldn’t’ be able to tell I had it in if it wasn’t for the fact that I could see so well.” But what I as a doctor love the most, and my patients do as well, is that by the end of the day it feels just as good.
Benson: Jasper says daily disposables are now available in just about any prescription off the shelf. Like any new technology, they cost just a little more–about a dollar a day per lens. But patients don’t have to buy solution anymore and they avoid maintenance and storage… the biggest causes of infection. Jasper says just about anyone can wear them — even kids.
Jasper: Children are so much fun to work with because they appreciate great vision. They expect great vision and when they put in those contact lenses it can truly change their life in a completely different way than it does the rest of us. Most children are able to wear contact lenses at a very young age. The youngest child that I’ve ever fit was four years old. We trained her how to put in the lenses herself, take them out. Mom and dad were there to see how to do things. But in some cases the glasses prescription is so thick that these little ones can’t even wear a pair of glasses on their nose. So there isn’t really a minimum age. It’s just important that the kids are motivated, they want to wear them. They’re not being forced to by me nor their parents and they at that point put the lenses in, they are able to put them in and take them out by themselves. I don’t expect mom and dad to do any of that for them. They’re really good as contact lens patients.
Benson: You can find out about all our guests on our website, radiohealthjournal.net, where you can also find archives of our shows. You’ll also find them on iTunes and Stitcher. Our production directors are Sean Waldron and Nick Hofstra. I’m Nancy Benson.