Transition Contact Lenses Are Coming in 2019: What You Need to Know

yellow umbrella blocking the sun’s rays

Transition contact lenses are a long time coming. 42% of Americans between 12 and 54 have myopia, or nearsightedness. Also, another 5% to 10% have hyperopia, or farsightedness. According to the CDC, more than 40 million Americans are contact lens wearers.

From glasses to surgical procedures, the treatment for vision problems is always advancing. One of the newest developments also aims to combat the negative effects of sunlight — transition contacts. But did you know that these transition contacts are the result of many scientific innovations? Let’s find out more!

Leonardo da Vinci and René Descartes

Bust of Leonardo da Vinci

In the 16th century, Leonardo da Vinci theorized that putting water on the cornea could alter vision. He designed a device to attach to the head. It included a glass lens with a water-filled funnel on one side. However, this was not a practical device.

René Descartes picked up this idea in 1636. Descartes also proposed a sealed, water-filled glass tube to change the cornea’s optical strength. While it was a good idea, it was also impractical. The device would need to be held in place and the wearer wouldn’t be able to blink while wearing it.

The Development of Contact Lenses

Thomas Young, an English scientist, made a pair of contact lenses in 1801 using Descartes’ design. In the 1880s, contact lenses made of blown glass could only be worn for a few hours. These sat on the white of the eye, which seems like it would be quite uncomfortable.

The 1930s brought plastic lenses and in the 1960s, plexiglass was introduced for lenses. These early contact lenses were designed to only cover the cornea. In 1971 softer, more comfortable contact lenses came to the market. These lenses rested on the eyes better and people wore them longer. However, there was a downside. Neither the plexiglass or softer option allowed the corneas to get oxygen. So longer wear was not advised by optometrists.

Manufacturers began to use soft hydrogel materials in the 1990s. These materials are actually polymers which can hold water but are water-insoluble. Currently, 98% of all lens wearers in the US use soft contacts.

Soft contact lenses allow for longer wear and greater comfort. They retain moisture and are much less irritating. There are also brands that allow you to wear them for a week and even up to a full 30 days.

Corning Creates Photochromic Glass

photochromic sports sunglasses

Photochromic, or UV-responsive, glass was first made available in 1966 by Corning. The company added silver halide crystals to molten glass. This created a glass material which could go from a clear to a darkened state. These lenses would darken within minutes in reaction to UV light. The process was reversible and continuous.

We all have our favorite pair of shades. Millions of molecules of UV-responsive dyes coat modern UV light-responsive sunglasses. These molecules change shape to absorb UV light and darken the lens. The shades are transparent when there isn’t sunlight.

Jackie Ying Takes on Transition Contact Lenses

Jackie Ying was director of the Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore. She and her team worked hard toward developing new materials for contact lenses. They’re working towards contact lenses that could identify diseases and distribute drugs.

In 2009, Jackie’s team worked on developing photochromic contact lenses. But adapting photochromic technology to contact lenses proved difficult. The hard part was in applying a dye coating to the thin surface of a contact lens.

The solution? A polymer laced with a network of nano-sized tunnels. Filled with the needed dye, the contacts could transition from dark to light. Ying's lenses allowed more dye into the material. This provided better light sensitivity than previous photochromic glass lenses. On top of that, these lenses transitioned even quicker than the glasses which preceded them.

With a response time of 10 to 20 seconds in comparison to minutes with glasses, testing began. First, they tested the lenses on animals to check the safety for humans. The main concern was whether the dyes would leak out into the eyes.

The entire iris darkening may look eerie, so they changed the design of the lenses. The dye only covered the corneas, but also still blocked out the UV light.

The FDA Clears Transition Contacts

After decades of work, on April 10, 2018 contact wearers received great news. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cleared the Acuvue Oasys contact lenses with Transitions Light Intelligent Technology. These are the first transition contacts approved by the FDA.

By using a filter, the contacts can sense how much light enters the eyes. They then darken or lighten in response. The lenses work to correct the vision of both nearsighted and farsighted people. For individuals within a certain degree of astigmatism, they can also use transition contact lenses.

The FDA reviewed a clinical study of 24 patients. The patients drove while wearing these contacts during the daytime and nighttime. Luckily, there was no evidence of issues with driving ability or vision.

Who Shouldn't Use Photochromic Contacts?

People with the following conditions shouldn’t use these lenses:

Things to Know

Hands holding up words “things to know” against vanilla sky

The manufacturer suggests daily wear of these contact lenses for up to 14 days. These lenses shouldn’t remain in your eyes when sleeping. Just like with all contacts, exposure to water can be a hazard. Also, don’t wear them longer than recommended.

UV-blocking contacts provide some protection from radiation. Right now, they’re not proven to prevent the development of cataracts or any other eye disorders. They also don’t cover your entire eyes and surrounding areas. For these reasons, UV-absorbing lenses are not substitutes for eyewear such as sunglasses.

Ready to Give Them a Go?

Woman showing excitement

Transition contact lenses are great for people may be blinded by the sun while driving. Athletes who want to improve their outdoor game will also enjoy the corneal shade. Plus, these lenses can help minimize the strain from fluorescent light bulbs.

Are you ready to give what TIME Magazine is calling one of the best inventions of 2018 a try? Contact wearers desiring added eye protection should check these out. So if you’re interested, visit an optometrist, who can perform an eye exam and determine if transition contact lenses may work for you.

For more information on purchasing contact lenses and keeping your eyes in great shape, take a look at the other articles on our blog page. We have great posts on how to care for your eyes and keep them healthy.

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