When I started fitting contact lenses in the 1980s it was common for people to be told that they would not be able to wear them. In those days lenses were made either of perspex (in a form known as pmma), or the early types of soft lenses. Lenses were individually made using hand-lathes and they were relatively expensive, so they were designed to last a year or two. These constraints lead to all kinds of problems:
- Poor vision due to inaccurate and inconsistent manufacture
- Poor vision due to rudimentary lens designs
- Poor comfort due to manufacturing issues, quality of materials etc
The main issues were discomfort and dryness, poor oxygen supply to the cornea, reactions to storage/cleaning solutions, protein/calcium deposits on the lenses, and the inability to fully correct astigmatism. Eye infections related to contact lens wear were relatively common.
Since then there has been a huge amount of research, not least in Australia, and many of these problems have been dramatically reduced or even solved completely.
In the late 1980s and during the 90s there was a revolution in manufacturing methods and techniques. Lenses are now made using repeatable moulds or are cut by computerised lathes. This means that lenses can now be manufactured repeatably and in much greater quantities.
Extensive research (including at the Centre for Eye Research at QUT) has given us a revolution in contact lens materials as well. People with a much greater range of eye conditions can now benefit from contact lens wear than ever before.
These days I fit soft contact lenses that incorporate silicon within the polymer. The oxygen transmission through these lenses is so good that it is practically the same at the eye as if no lens was in place! 30 night continuous wear of contact lenses is now a reality, even for people with astigmatism.
Daily disposable lenses (use once and throw away) have been a reality for over 20 years. What’s more I now fit daily disposables with built-in moisturisers and daily disposables that correct astigmatism! These lenses are perfect for people who just want to wear lenses occasionally for sports or special occasions.
Most lenses now are replaced after 1 day or 2 or 4 weeks of wear. These lenses are available in a very wide range of prescriptions. This along with the other innovations I mentioned has lead to a dramatic reduction in the rates of inflammation and infection with contact lenses. Millions of people worldwide now wear contact lenses, benefiting from good vision, great comfort and very low complication rates.
With modern lens care systems that incorporate synthetic preservatives, very few people have adverse reactions to contact lens solutions. And for those that have problems in this regard, there are alternative solutions or daily disposable lenses.
So if you were told years ago that contact lenses were not for you, it might be time to take a fresh look at see what can be done with the latest in contact lenses.