At one time the choice was very simple – hard or soft. Now there are almost as many choices as there are eye conditions… the secret is finding an optician who is not only familiar with all the different types of lenses but also knows how to fit them all.
Many Opticians in the UK only have limited experience of Contacts and only fit CHEAP ‘one fit’ soft lenses because this is relatively easy compared to the much more sophisticated complex semi-permeable and advanced designs of Rigid Lenses.
Soft lenses are easy to fit as they “drape” over the surface of the eye so can cope with a range of corneal shapes. Most opticians who don’t specialise in Contact Lenses will only offer them as they haven’t had the necessary training to fit ALL the other types of lenses available today. The disadvantage of soft lenses is that the level of vision correction obtained may not be as accurate as with other lenses and in addition, unless treated correctly they can be prone to build up of proteins, lipids and calcium. The design and materials used for flexible oxygen permeable lenses have advanced significantly in the last couple of years so that now as well as providing superior vision, these rigid lenses are as comfortable as soft lenses and more suited to dry eyes. So if you’ve rejected the idea of these lenses (also known as RGPs or Rigid Gas Permeable) now is the time to reconsider and discuss your options with one of our skilled practitioners.
The ideal lens for you depends on your particular vision problem, your lifestyle and your preferences. This is why you need to work with a specialist, to find a lens that gives you great vision, great comfort and lets you live the life you want to lead; whether that involves water sports or sitting for hours in front of a computer, throwing your lenses away every day or leaving them in for a month at a time.
We fit every lens with any clinical merit and will custom design a lens for you if nothing else will work. With over 90 years experience and training between our 3 specialists you can be sure that we will find the very best lens for you!
Contacts are NOT new! Leonardo Da Vinci drew sketches of Contact Lenses in 1508, but it wasn’t until over 300 years later in the 1880s that the first Contact Lenses were fitted. (For more on the history of lenses see Wikipedia) . These SCLERAL or HAPTIC Lenses were blown in glass over a mould of the eye and fitted over the whole eye. Progress was relatively slow up until the advent of plastics in the 1940’s when Scleral Lenses became a regular way of correcting both abnormal eye conditions such as Keratoconus and also all normal errors of vision.
Haptic lens from the 1940s– Photo courtesy of Phisick.com
In the 1950s Micro Corneal lenses came along – originally known simply as Contact Lenses. With the advent of soft lenses they acquired the name Hard or Rigid Gas Permeable Lensesin order to differentiate the two. Because they require expert fitting skills and most Optometrists today in the UK are only given basic training in fitting RGP lenses, they are now only fitted by a few specialist Contact Lens Practitioners even though thanks to recent advances, they offer instant comfort as good as that offered by soft lenses, better vision and are more hygienic. In the United States where Optometrists are trained more extensively in these 40% of new lens wearers are fitted with RGP lenses compared to only 3% in the UK. Although we can’t change the World we prefer to describe these as ‘flexible oxygen permeable lenses’ because, with the latest manufacturing technology and advanced materials as we’ve already said they can be superbly comfortable.
Soft or HYDROPHILIC(meaning ‘water loving’) lenses appeared in the late 1960’s. Soft because of their water content and transparent, the material was originally developed in Czechoslovakia but lack of prior experience meant that they were unable to produce wearable Contact Lenses. As a result they sold the rights to the US National Patents Department who licensed Bausch & Lomb and HYDRON to develop Soft Lenses using this material known as Hydrogel.
Soft Lenses received US Food & Drugs Administration in 1971 and rapidly became very popular. Their advantages over Hard Perspex lenses (rigid oxygen permeable had not yet been developed) were their immediate comfort, no build up in wearing times and ease of fitting.
Massive technological improvements have been made in soft lenses since the 70’s. In the late 1960’s a colleague of Geoff’s developed the first soft lens suitable for sleeping in – Permalens. In 1974 Geoff was asked to join 9 other top specialists to evaluate this lens for F.D.A approval which was granted in 1976.
The original Hydrogel lenses were joined in the mid 1990’s by biocompatible plastics with some resistance to protein build up as well as having a lower drying rate making them better for patients with dryer eyes and low tear flow.
In 1999 the very first soft hydrogel lenses with silicone added, ‘sil-gels’ became available thereby dramatically increasing oxygen permeability. Both CIBA VISION and BAUSCH & LOMB launched these lenses which are so permeable that they received U.S. Food & Drugs Administration for up to 30 days SLEEP IN!
Because of our reputation with our peers and the experience we’ve accrued in designing lenses hardly a month goes by without a manufacturer asking us to trial or introduce a new product. We happily take those that have clinical merit and add them to our armoury of lens designs so expanding the vast range of lenses that we can draw from in order to find the perfect one for each of our patients.