Taking the Pulse of the Contact Lens Market
BY JASON J. NICHOLS, OD, MPH, PHD, FAAO
As editor of Contact Lens Spectrum, I get asked a range of questions from a variety of individuals representing different facets of the market, including both eyecare professionals and others. One of the most (if not the most) frequently asked questions I receive is, “How many contact lens wearers are there?” Unfortunately, data to support that answer are harder to come by than you would think.
In writing the Annual Report for 2009, which appeared in the January 2010 issue, I noted that our emeritus editors estimated that there were approximately 24 million contact lens wearers in the United States in 1989. Ten years later in 1999, our emeritus editors estimated that there were 33 million lens wearers in the United States (about a 37-percent increase over the 10-year period). And while I did not quote a specific number of lens wearers in the Annual Report this year, I could have estimated about 35 million in the United States (certainly no more than 40 million)—potentially a 6-percent to a 21-percent increase for this 10-year period, which is almost half that of the prior 10-year period. As a point of reference, there are more than 300 million people in the United States and more than half require visual correction.
Of course, these values are estimates and we need to keep that in perspective. But taking them at face value might suggest that growth in the contact lens market is asymptotic, and this concerned me. Has growth in the contact lens market slowed? And if so, why? We continue to have tremendous advances in contact lens materials and designs (e.g., new torics and multifocals), which should lend themselves to fitting more segments of the population. Dry eye in lens wearers continues to be a challenge, but again, we have significant variety in options with advanced materials, designs, and even pharmaceuticals to help manage these patients. Although traditionally many practitioners have been hesitant to fit younger children in contact lenses, contemporary studies have shown that fitting children in lenses can be easy and beneficial on a variety of fronts. Lastly, if you ask, contact lens practitioners will tell you that their business was good this past year and that they expect it to be even better this coming year.
So, if the observation about growth in the contact lens market is true, what is it that we need to do to take the next step toward larger growth in the market? There may be no easy answer, although it certainly involves each of you. Stay tuned for more on this topic in future issues.