As eye care providers, we are constantly battling the consumer market to remind everyone that a contact lens is a medical device on the eye.
For this reason, yearly ocular health exams are required for renewing contact lens prescriptions. We are looking at the corneal health to ensure there is enough oxygen flow to the cornea and that the contact lens is not causing any damage to the ocular surface.
The cornea is a clear window through which you constantly view the world. Any irritation, dryness, infection or decrease in oxygen to the cornea can cause it to become hazy, which results in blurred vision.
Researchers are further expanding the medical function of the contact lens to assist in treatment of eye disease. A professor of chemical and biological engineering at the University of British Columbia and his team of synthetic biologists and chemical engineers are developing a contact lens that will allow medications to be slowly released from the lens over time.
This might be years away from hitting the market, but FDA trials are set to begin this year and progress to human studies in 2019 by a company called OcuMedic.
Another medical use of the contact lens is as a bandage for the cornea. We are currently using this with increasing frequency. Previously, if a patient had a badly scratched cornea, we had to put a bunch of gauze and patch over the eye to keep the eye shut while it healed.
This prevented frequent use of drops, and also did not allow the patient to evaluate for any visual blurring secondary to the trauma.
Now, I often put a bandage contact lens over the injury. It limits the eyelid from lifting up the edge of the scraped cornea every time you blink, helps with the pain, and allows for frequent antibiotic drop use and visual evaluation.
These lenses are incredibly oxygen permeable, such that we can leave them in for multiple nights if needed.
For those patients who have worn contacts for years and years, it’s easy to lose sight (no pun intended!) of what an incredibly intricate device it is.
That we can put a silicone polymer in our eye and see through it is pretty amazing. With that same awe, we should respect this invention and use it responsibly.
Caroline Bundrick, O.D. is an optometrist practicing at Darling Eye Center, with offices in Bluffton and on Hilton Head Island.