Eye care companies have been developing products for people who need help anyway. Most of them have been concentrating on contact lenses because that’s what many millennials are used to. “We have an aging population that has grown up on contact lenses, that wants to continue to wear contacts and transition into presbyopia as easily as possible,” Andrews says. “Aging has an emotional component to it, we want our vision to be like it used to be.”

Patients who need help focusing at different distances (say, were nearsighted but were also developing presbyopia) were once relegated to bifocal glasses or the more seamless progressive lenses. Contacts, though, were often elusive. “Multifocal lenses have been out for 20, 25 years, but uptake of them has been limited because they don’t work that well and they’re difficult to prescribe,” says Moody of J&J. His company spent five years focusing on fitting multifocal contacts by measuring patients’ pupil size (which affects their ability to accommodate) at different ages. The company has 183 different fits.

For patients who don’t yet have presbyopia but who are experiencing digital eye strain, CooperVision developed a new type of lens called Biofinity Energys specifically designed for use of digital devices. When they went on sale in 2016, uptake was slow, Andrews says. “What we did learn back in 2016 is that patients did not equate their discomfort when using digital devices to their eyes and did not bring it to a doctor’s attention. They’d feel tired at the end of the day and say, ‘Well, it was a long day.’” Now, as a result of the pandemic, more people are coming to their eye doctors with concerns about their eye health, resulting in an uptick in prescriptions, she adds.

Bausch + Lomb, too, is creating multifocal contacts to better work for presbyopic patients. It makes contacts designed to help patients see at near, intermediate, and far distances. It even makes multifocal lenses for people with astigmatism, an imperfection in the eye’s curvature that can further distort vision.

They’re also making contacts to address dry eye issues, either because of excessive screen time or merely as a factor of age. Daily lenses are generally considered better for people with dry eyes. J&J developed a silicone hydrogen for its Acuvue Oasys contacts that the company says keeps eyes more moist. Bausch + Lomb has a similar product, called INFUSE; it plans to launch a multifocal lens with this material next year.

What comes next

As time goes on, these companies will continue to create new products and materials to address the changing needs of patients. Myopia will likely play a big part in that—some experts predict 5 billion people worldwide will have myopia by 2050, which would put even bigger demands on contacts to be able to address strong prescriptions and astigmatism. In 2019, CooperVision’s MiSight 1 Day contacts became the first such contact to receive Food and Drug Administration approval to slow the progression of myopia in children ages eight through 12. A little prevention and even better options for treatment can help people see clearly and comfortably through all stages of life.

“I think what we’re all aiming for is a product where every need is met,” Andrews says. “Patients want great vision and comfort at a great price. They want it to be easy to put in and take out. That’s the ideal contact lens.” And in many ways, she adds, that’s always been the challenge.

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