The first written concept of the contact lens is said to have come from Leonardo da Vinci. The Italian renaissance artist hypothesized a device that could be placed on the eye to alter the power of the optical system. Obviously it wasn’t possible in his time.
Through the centuries, other thinkers and inventors worked on the idea. The breakthrough came in the 1970s when contact lenses became more breathable and user friendly.
“They were hard lenses,” says US-based optometrist David Kading. “Soft contact lenses shortly followed, and people would use them for a year or two.”
About 25 years ago, manufacturers started making disposable contact lenses, to be replaced every month or every three months.
“We’ve seen major advancements in disposable contact lenses, how safe they are, and how comfortable they are.
“In 1999, the company that is now Alcon made the very first commercially available, very breathable contact lenses. So breathable, it’s almost like you’re not wearing lenses,” Kading adds.
While regular contact lenses are sufficient for most people, Kading says approximately 30 per cent of people with short-sightedness suffer from a condition called astigmatism.
In astigmatism, the shape of the eye is not completely round so that light rays do not focus correctly on the retina, leading to blurred vision. It is more common for sufferers to use corrective lenses in the form of glasses rather than contact lenses. “The reason is because we do not had great technology to correct this, but we now do.”
Another issue is long-sightedness, which is more prevalent among older people. It is usually corrected by reading glasses, but that makes it an issue for contact lens wearers.
“A significant number quit wearing contact lenses because they are not aware of multi-focal or bi-focal contact lenses,” says Kading.
“Multi-focal or bi-focal contact lenses allow wearers to see objects, both near and far, clearly. They are also suitable for reading and are great for people with an active lifestyle.”
Tim Grant, who heads Alcon’s Vision Care department for Asia, says progress in contact lens technology is made possible through advancements in science and manufacturing.
Grant is responsible for the company’s contact lens and lens care portfolio.
“These products have to go through extensive clinical studies before we are able to bring them to market.”
And it’s not just the lens that’s important. Regardless of the sophisticated material used to make the lens, it still has to be maintained, lubricated and cleaned.
“This is where lens care solution comes in. It’s a rather complex balance to maintain ocular health.”
Grant says he wears a pair of highly oxygen-permeable lenses which he doesn’t need to take off for 30 days and 30 nights.
They are made of a particular material, and he warns that you can’t do that with just any type of contact lens.
To debunk a persistent myth about contact lenses, he says: “The lens cannot slip to the back of the eyeball. Your eye’s anatomical structure stops it from happening. Once the lens is on the cornea = the clear part of the eye – it won’t move off because of the shape.”
But given how easy it is to buy contact lenses, we sometimes forget that it is a medical device that must be prescribed. “Not all contact lenses are the same,” says Murphy Chan, president of the Association of Malaysian Optometrists.
“You must be examined by a qualified professional. And you need follow-ups, just like with medication. If it’s wrongly prescribe, it won’t do you any good. And if it’s not monitored, your condition might change in that time period.
“You must also be aware that what works for one person may not work for you. We need to look at your lifestyle, your wearing hours and other requirements.”
Chan says proper consultation is necessary to give the public access to the latest in contact lens technology.
“The contact lens of today and the one 10 years ago are very different. Nowadays, it’s become so comfortable you hardly notice it’s there.”Article by Aznim Ruhana Md Yusup. Advances in contact lens, pg. 2, New Straits Times, 22 April, 2014.