Further Update on the Contact Lens Industry
By Joseph T. Barr, O.D., M.S., F.A.A.O., Editor
With our December 2001 issue, you received the "Trends in Contact Lenses & Lens Care." It stated that 36 million persons in the United States wore contact lenses in 2000, according to the HPR Annual Consumer Contact Lens Survey. I know some manufacturers think this may be optimistic by 15 percent or even more. But there is no question there are more contact lens wearers now than 10 years ago. Some of this growth has been among presbyopes, and over 50 percent of those who need vision correction from ages 13 to 34 wear contact lenses.
Manufacturers' market research estimate that 12 to 13 million contact lens patients may be interested in silicone hydrogel contact lenses in the next five years. The convenience of up to 30 days of continuous wear and promotion of these lenses to consumers, tempered with the resistance of most contact lens practitioners, will determine how close we get to those numbers. With over half of the contact lens wearers saying that lens cleaning interferes with their lifestyle and expressing wariness about refractive surgery outcomes, consumers will drive the growth in this area. Practitioners are more likely to be concerned about the 1 percent of patients who experience infiltrative keratitis and the even lower number of mechanical reactions with these lenses. Remember, all of these changes are reversible.
Here are some other trends worth considering. In the last decade, there has been more than 100 percent growth in the percentage of people who started wearing contact lenses at age 14 or less (13 percent in 1992 to 28 percent in 2000). A survey of our readers (n=307) indicates that 61 percent expect their disposable contact lens business to increase, and 32 percent expect no change. Some 45 percent expect their daily disposable contact lens business to increase, while 41 percent expect no change.
Late last year, one company reported it shipped one billion lenses, and sales were over $1 billion in the past year. I can remember when a billion dollar company was huge! Disposable lenses and new materialssoft and RGPhave made contact lens wear safer and safer, and manufacturing has made lens wear better, safer and more effective in all designs. It's no wonder that overall, 66 percent of respondents to our survey indicate their overall contact lens practice will increase in the next two years, while only 30 percent thought it would stay the same. If the economy allows it, there is much hope for the contact lens field in this decade.