The concept of lenses made from silicone hydrogel was first proposed over 20 years ago. The potential benefits were clear but the technological challenge was as difficult as needing to combine oil and water to produce an optically clear product. Researcher organizations have to date invested considerable academic and financial resources to achieve the high performance soft lenses of today. They have done this quite simply because they see this material as the way forward and the ultimate standard of the future.
At the time of writing, silicone hydrogel lenses are available in the USA from four manufacturers: “Night & Day” and “O2OPTIX” from CIBA Vision, “Pure Vision” from Bausch & Lomb, and “Acuvue OASYS” and “Advance” from J&J Vision Care.
So what’s so special about silicone hydrogel as a lens material? eye color contacts Essentially, the great benefit of this material is it’s ability to transport oxygen to the eye and thus maintain proper eye health. Modern contact lens technology is all to do with oxygen permability, which is measured using the “Dk” index. And for optimal oxygen transmission, this must be as high as possible.
The Dk of traditional, non-silicone based hydrogel lenses is directly related to the amount of water that the material can hold, since oxygen dissolves into the water-component of the material and thus diffuses through the lens. The Dk in fact increases logarithmically with increasing water content. Water itself has a Dk of only 80, thus placing a ceiling on the Dk of convential materials, and the original soft contact lens material, polyHEMA, possesses a Dk of only around 10 (with a water content of about 38%).
However, in silicone hydrogels, the relationship between Dk and water content is the opposite. Here higher water content implies lower Dk. With these lenses Dk increases significantly as the silicone content – not water content – of the lens increases. The Dk values of silicone hydrogel contact lenses are much higher than those of older soft lens materials.
SLEEPING IN CONTACT LENSES
According to market data from CIBA Vision, 84% of soft contact lens wearers occasionally sleep with their lenses in, and one-third admit to doing this regularly. 25% of wearers of one to two-week disposable lenses with low oxygen transmissibility occasionally or routinely sleep in their lenses overnight. And 72% of soft contact lens wearers said they would prefer to be allowed to wear their lenses overnight provided it was safe.
Thus the demand for lenses with the capablities of silicone hydrogels is evidently very high with almost three-quarters of soft lens wearers wanting to be able to sleep in their lenses.
Silicone hydrogel lenses are significantly more rigid than their conventional counterparts, due to the presence of silicone. This increased rigidity does possess some advantages, making the lenses markedly easier to handle and thus the ideal choice for wearers with a less delicate touch. There is a downside to this however in that the rigidity makes the lenses less prone to adopting the shape of the eye so readily, resulting in the possibility for some of reduced comfort.
Historically, the deposition of proteins and lipids has been a problem with contact lenses. The amount of depositions is essentially linked to the duration of wear, the lens material and the tear composition of each individual wearer. With traditional lenses, a frequent replacement schedule greatly reduces the buildup of harmful deposits.