Evolving Contact Lens Expectations in the Digital World

Eye care providers have the opportunity to address digital device users experiencing digital eye fatigue.

By Michele Andrews, OD

What if the clear majority of patients have been living with an unaddressed issue for years—one that they did not know existed, and for which there was no easy solution? This is the type of conundrum that drives many practitioners crazy, yet inspires many others to push harder each day in search of an answer.

Eye care providers see thousands of patients over their careers, and one thing is for certain: Every eye is different. When it comes to vision correction, what works for one patient may not work for another. In choosing the correct course, there is so much to consider: What is best for his eyes? What is best for her lifestyle?

Demands on the eye have changed dramatically in recent years, largely due to the increased use of digital devices. It used to be that most digital device use took place at work. Now, digital device use is prevalent during all waking hours, for both business and pleasure. In fact, more than 90% of adults use digital devices more than 2 hours a day, and nearly 60% of adults use digital devices more than 5 hours a day.1

People of all ages have begun to experience the effects of this use, and many of them end up in the exam lane. It is imperative that practitioners recognize this trend as an eye care issue. In addition, contact lens technology must keep pace, making advances to meet patients’ evolving needs.

DEFINING DIGITAL EYE FATIGUE

Discomfort associated with digital device use is most commonly felt after 2 or more hours in front of a screen. It is characterized by tiredness, dryness, and redness. Extended exposure to bright light, screen glare, and long periods of device use can contribute to the issue. This type of use can also create varying degrees of physical discomfort, and it may contribute to productivity loss, sluggishness, and stress. The condition has become known in the profession as digital eye fatigue or digital eye strain.

Research shows that seven in 10 adults experience discomfort associated with long hours of digital device use.2 A study conducted at Indiana University found that more than 75% of individuals using digital devices reported eye tiredness and dryness at least once a week or more, and 35% once a day or more.2 Still, this widespread condition is often dismissed as “normal” by a population that has become accustomed to the digital lifestyle.3-5

In fact, 90% of people do not talk with their eye care provider about their interaction with digital devices, according to a study by The Vision Council.3 This may often be because they are not asked, and they may not even recognize the correlation between their symptoms and their digital device use unless informed by their optometrist.

On the practitioner’s part, this presents an opportunity, not only to educate patients, but potentially to help them solve a problem that they did not know could be solved.

ADVANCES IN TECHNOLOGY

Optometrists often teach patients the 20-20-20 rule to help combat the symptoms of digital eye fatigue: every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds to give eyes a rest from digital devices. Also, over the past several years, eyewear manufacturers have begun introducing computer glasses—spectacles specifically for computer use, with antireflective or blue light–filtering coatings.

However, behavioral and spectacle options offer help only for some of the symptoms of digital eye fatigue, and for many patients they are a challenge to maintain. For contact lens wearers, migrating back to spectacles as their primary mode of vision correction may not be an acceptable solution. As a result, contact lens manufacturers are being challenged to address digital eye fatigue as well.

CooperVision’s Biofinity Energys with Digital Zone Optics lens design is the first contact lens specifically created for digital device users. It is designed for comfortable all-day wear, helping eyes to better adapt so that they can seamlessly and continuously shift focus between devices and offline activities.

This product platform is an early entrant in a growing category of lenses driven by the evolving needs of modern contact lens wearers. Optometrists who initiate discussions with patients about digital eye fatigue can leverage those conversations, and the solutions available, to contribute to the growth of their practices. Based on a growing body of data, there are few patients who would not benefit from some kind of technology to reduce the symptoms of digital eye fatigue, whether in contact lenses or spectacles.

AN EYE ON THE FUTURE

Advances in contact lens technology will continue, and ECPs will continue to work with contact lens companies that bring true innovations to the marketplace. What is next? What needs have not yet been addressed by today’s contact lenses? What demands are not yet known but will emerge over time?

The answers to these questions will be discovered through partnerships between industry and those who see patients day in and day out: the ECPs. The future of contact lenses will be developed by companies based on the experiences of the patients who wear them and the feedback they provide to the doctors who prescribe them. There are no limits to what can be achieved, as long as we keep asking, “What if…?”

1. The Vision Council. Hindsight is 20/20: Protecting Your Eyes from Digital Devices. The 2015 Digital Eye Strain Report. Accessed December 12, 2016. https://www.thevisioncouncil.org/sites/default/files/VC_DigitalEyeStrain_Report2015.pdf

2. Meyer D, Huenink D, Rickert M, et al. Symptoms associated with eye fatigue in soft contact lens wearers. Paper presented at: American Academy of Optometry Annual Meeting; October 7-10, 2015; New Orleans.

3. The Vision Council. Eyes Overexposed: The Digital Device Dilemma. The 2016 Digital Eye Strain Report. https://www.thevisioncouncil.org/digital-eye-strain-report-2016. Accessed December 12, 2016.

4. Meyer D, Kollbaum P. Doctor, my eyes… are tired! Review of Optometry. May 15, 2016.

5. The Vision Council. DigitEYEzed: The Daily Impact of Digital Screens on the Eye Health of Americans. The 2014 Digital Eye Strain Report. https://www.thevisioncouncil.org/sites/default/files/TVCDigitEYEzedReport2014.pdf. Accessed December 12, 2016.

Michele Andrews, OD
• Senior director of North America Professional and Academic Affairs at CooperVision
dr.andrews@coopervision.com