I love my contact lenses; the freedom to see clearly without having a frame on my face allows for easier use of some of our exam room instrumentation. While most would easily recognize the primary purpose for contact lenses is vision correction, there are medical and therapeutic applications that specialty contact lenses can provide. Here are 5 examples of such applications (and one very exciting example for the near future).
Block harmful Ultra-Violet rays:
The non-visible, ultraviolet spectrum of sunlight can cause the acceleration of degenerative eye diseases such as cataracts, pterygium and macular degeneration. Many commercially available disposable contact lenses have an ultraviolet filter. One particular popularly prescribed lens blocks 100% UV-B and 96% UV-A. I like to prescribe this lens, when fitting dynamics dictate, to individuals who spend much of their day outdoors as an extra safeguard against the onset of eye disease.
Treat Dry Eye Syndrome:
Most conventional soft disposable contact lenses cause dry eye symptoms to be worse. There is one specialty contact lens, the scleral lens, that can ease the symptoms associated with dry eye. Scleral lenses are a rigid/hard lens that ride only on the white of the eye (the sclera). The majority of the contact lens covers (or ‘vaults’) the cornea without touching. The ‘interface’ or gap in between the cornea and the eye is filled with a sterile saline. This vaulted lens filled with saline ‘bathes’ the cornea in fluid all day while it is worn. It has been especially useful option for those suffering from auto-immune disorders (Rheumatoid Arthritis, Sjogrens Syndrome, Lupus, etc) where Dry Eye Syndrome can be a debilitating circumstance.
Act as a Prosthesis:
Scarring of the cornea, whether it be from trauma, surgery or degenerative disease, can be cosmetically unsightly. Contact lenses can be designed to mask the appearance of these scars. More than a conventional color changing lens, these specialty lenses are artfully crafted to replicate the patient’s own eye color. Not only do these contact lenses improve the patient’s appearance, they can also improve vision comfort for those who have suffered damage to the iris (colored portion inside the eye). The iris serves as the aperture in which light enters the eye. A missing or malfunctioning iris would usually cause extreme light-sensitivity. The cosmetically designed iris can ‘block’ the additional light from entering the eye, creating a new functional aperture.
Act as a Bandage:
Traumatic injury to the cornea can be a very painful and sight-threatening situation. The ability to ‘re-grow’ corneal tissue is key to successful healing. There are times, under certain circumstances, that Doctors can utilize specialty contact lenses to act as a bandage over lesions to promote healing. While this is a very effective method to promote the re-growth of injured corneal tissue, it is always performed with a particular type of specialty lens under strict clinical supervision.
Change the shape of the cornea to eliminate myopia:
Orthokeratology is a non-surgical procedure using specially designed contact lenses to gently reshape the curvature of the eye to improve vision. A specialized rigid lens is designed to be applied to the eye before bedtime and worn through the night. While sleeping, the contact lens very gently re-shapes the cornea precisely to the curve that will allow for clear vision. Upon removal of the lens in the morning, vision is functionally clear throughout the day, without glasses or conventional contact lenses.
Orthokeratology, or Ortho-k for short, is a safe, temporary change of the corneal curve. So temporary in fact, that ceasing to wear the specialty lens overnight for just a few days will result in returning to your normal ‘organic’ amount of myopia. Ortho-k is an excellent option for individuals seeking a non-surgical method to eliminate the need for vision correction throughout the day or for children/teens looking for an alternative to glasses or contact lenses that are not yet qualified for surgery.
And a specialty contact lens for the near future…
Contact lenses to deliver medicine and monitor health:
Currently in pharmaceutical research and development exist specialty contact lenses designed to either deliver eye medication or monitor track vital eye and even bodily health information. Contact lenses saturated with glaucoma medication will, in the future, potentially allow for better administration and control of the treatment to the eye. Lenses may also be embedded with a sensor to monitor eye pressure and download readings throughout the day to various digital devices. There is research going into the ability to gauge/measure bodily blood sugar levels in the tear film. This would enable a contact lens with a sensor to constantly monitor and digitally deliver blood sugar information.
The world of specialty contact lenses is diverse. I have seen specialty contact lenses positively impact many of my patient’s lives. Not only are contact lenses a fun and convenient way to correct common vision prescriptions, specialty contact lenses represent the vanguard of medical and therapeutic technologies of the modern Optometrist.