20 January 2017
Technology and innovation in medicine often moves at a fast pace. Ideas that were once portrayed in the literature or comics of science fiction can evolve into reality. Even as early as 1508 Leonardo da Vinci drew images showing the cornea being placed in water to alter the optics of the eye. However it was not until much later of course that contact lenses became viable. Although early examples can be found in the late 1800s it was not until around 1948 that the Californian optician Kevin Tuohy produced the first contact lens which was similar to the gas permeable contact lenses we know and use today.
The first mass produced contact lenses were made from plastic and only covered the cornea. These ‘hard’ contact lenses were made of non-porous plastic known as polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA). As these lenses could be worn for around 16 hours they became widely adopted in the 1950s – 1960s. Soft contact lenses now account for 90% of lenses worn today and were officially launched by Bausch & Lomb in 1971.
So for many years the only alternative to glasses was contact lenses. For millions this was a liberating experience – people were finally free from glasses that they disliked, could participate in sports and other activities without worrying about damaging their spectacles and in many cases just simply felt a whole lot better about their appearance. Indeed with the advent of coloured contacts, people who did not even need their vision corrected opted to wear these lenses to change their appearance.
However over the years there have been many issues with contact lenses. It is now well documented that the wearing of contact lenses causes changes in the structure, tear production and oxygen levels in the cornea. Symptoms such as dry eyes, blepharitis and allergic conjunctivitis are sometimes reported in contact lens wearers. Often poor lens care, such as not cleaning the lenses properly, can cause issues as can the preservatives used in the contact lens solutions.
Laser eye surgery offers a real alternative to contact lenses without any of the associated issues that often plague contact lens wearers. Many LASIK patients often describe how they wish they had undergone treatment years ago – they realise that all the cleaning, the dry eyes and the issues that plagued their contact lens use could have been avoided by having treatment sooner.
A recent study in Ophthalmology magazine provided even more evidence that laser eye surgery is a more preferable treatment than opting to use contact lenses to correct vision. The research was unique in that it measured patient satisfaction rates several years after choosing contact lenses or going ahead with LASIK (link). Contact lens satisfaction declined after a few years with an initial 63% expressing strong satisfaction which declined to only 54% after three years. However the figure for LASIK was a much higher 88% strong satisfaction initially and this remained high at 77% after three years.
There has never been a better time to have laser eye surgery. Safety, results, the skill of the surgeon and long term satisfaction rates are at an all time high. LASIK offers an easier way to enjoy superb visual clarity without the associated issues and relatively poorer satisfaction rates of contact lens use.