Marking an Industry Anniversary
By Jason J. Nichols, OD, MPH, PHD, FAAO
In addition to celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Contact Lens Spectrum this year, it's important that we remember another significant anniversary that is also occurring in 2011. In some ways it is one of the most important events that has happened in the history of contact lenses: the 40th anniversary of the introduction of the first soft contact lens. The first soft lens was based on poly-hydroxyethylmethacrylate (p-HEMA), on which the first published article appeared in 1960 and which Otto Wichterle patented in 1963.
If you stop to think about it, it's remarkable how much of an impact the soft lens has had on the field of contact lenses. Depending on the source, estimates suggest that nearly 90 percent of contact lens patients are fitted with soft contact lenses. There are probably more than 30 million soft lens wearers in the United States today, compared to probably about 10 million in the early 1980s. The number of scholarly articles on soft lenses has risen dramatically over the years. A crude search of the MedLine literature since 1965 shows about a three- to four-fold increase in the number of scholarly articles published on the topic in this last decade compared with the early years. Our 25th Anniversary Perspective article by Brien Holden, PhD, DSc, OAM, FAAO, and Des Fonn, MOptom, FAAO, really puts all of this into great perspective.
While the soft lens has dramatically impacted patient care in many positive ways, there are also other issues that have arisen over time with their use. For instance, many people feel that soft contact lenses are generally easier to fit compared to GP contact lenses. And, because of their market domination and ease of fitting, some professional programs have cut their contact lens education training program in one way or another (while often increasing disease or pharmaceutical curricula). For instance, some programs have very little training in specialty contact lens fitting—I think that the resurgence in scleral contact lens options over the past few years has reminded us of this.
Without question, the field has come a long way, and the soft contact lens options of yesterday and those that we are offering today deserve much of the credit for this. However, it is important that we keep things in perspective going forward as we continue to make contact lenses successful vision correction options for our patients through 2020 and beyond.