It’s an unfortunate fact that a large percentage of people have some sort of trouble with their vision. Even if you don’t at the moment, every human eventually has enough trouble focusing both near and far that they’ll need glasses for one or the other as they age. Our pupils become more limited also, with young eyes able to expand and close from about 2mm to 8mm, while in seniors they hardly change size at all. Exposure to the wrong kinds of light can also lead to eye issues later in life.
Fortunately, there are a variety of high-tech solutions either available or planned that can help us delay, or workaround, or even prevent some of these problems. For many of us, the only time we think about getting new glasses or a different kind of contact lenses is when our prescription changes. But that old pair of glasses you’re wearing doesn’t include the latest high-tech advances, which might turn out to be important to you. Similarly, there is increasing competition in contact lenses as well. We’ll cover some of the most important advances below.
Make Sure Your Sunglasses Are Up to Snuff in UV Protection
There is no question that UV radiation can be bad for you. However, it is only recently that scientists have realized that we hadn’t been going far enough with UV protection. Historically “UV380” was considered adequate for sunglasses. That certified that UV light below 380 nm was filtered out. But, while the light radiation from 380 nm to 400 nm may not contain as much energy, it is also the only UV light that makes it all the way to the retina. As a result, it can be a contributing factor in macular degeneration. Unfortunately, the time to start blocking UV is when you’re young, long before you typically think about or experience macular degeneration. But in any case, better late than never.
For sunglasses, the right feature to look for is UV400, which equates to blocking at least 99 percent of UV light up to 400 nm. Fortunately, most sunglass makers have gotten with the program, and a quick search on Amazon showed that most top sellers are UV400. However, there are still plenty of “UV380” models for sale that don’t adequately block the longer wavelengths. Price is also no guarantee of whether you are getting UV protection. I tested a dozen pairs of sunglasses around our house and found that four of them — including cheap and expensive models — offered little protection, while eight — including the least expensive — offered good protection. Of those, six offered what according to my test was full protection. The four without any protection at 400 nm went into the trash.
How to Test Your Glasses for UV Protection
Most opticians can test your glasses for UV protection, although you can do a reasonable version for yourself quickly and cheaply. You’ll need a UV LED of the appropriate wavelength(s). I used a 395-400 nm LED flashlight to test for whether protection extended to 400 nm and a 365 nm LED keychain light to see if the glasses had any UV protection at all. There are plenty of inexpensive options on Amazon for both.
Next, pull out a new-style $20 bill and flip it over to the reverse side. As you shine your UV LED across it, you’ll see a bright green stripe appear. Now all you need to do is try that trick with the light going through your glasses. If they filter out the wavelength of your LED, you won’t see the green stripe on the bill. You can see how it works in the photo on the right. Notice that the green stripe is not visible where the UV light passed through the sunglasses. I was pleasantly surprised that these $15 glasses I bought at the racetrack when I forgot mine actually have good protection.
The caveat here is the precision of the wavelength of your chosen LED. From tinkering with a few, most seem to be pretty close to what they claim. But if you’re concerned, then I’d either make sure you have one that is certified to supply the wavelength you want or visit a local optician.
High-tech Brings UV400 to Prescription Glasses
For those of us who spend a lot of time outdoors wearing prescription glasses, UV protection for them may be even more important than for our sunglasses. Unfortunately, until recently it wasn’t possible to add a true UV400 coating to clear lenses without adding a possibly annoying color tint. Zeiss has invented a clear coating that filters out UV light up to 400 nm. The company is so excited about the health benefits of the invention that it has done two unusual things. First, it is now adding the coating to all of its plastic lenses going forward. Second, Zeiss has said it’s not patenting its UVProtect technology, so that other lens makers can follow suit.
Blue Blocking: Do You Need It?
While it’s nearly universally agreed that blocking UV up to 400 nm is a health benefit, there is also a movement to block light beyond the UV, into the visible blue portion of the spectrum. Various coatings have been introduced to filter out blue light below 450 nm while passing higher wavelengths. The theory is that for those of us who spend a lot of time in front of computer displays — which often emit a large quantity of blue light below 450 nm — our eyes would be healthier, and we’d be able to sleep better if it was filtered out.
Until recently, the problem has been that those coatings have made lenses look odd, or affected visual performance. That has begun to change. I’ve got Zeiss’s BlueProtect on my new glasses, and I don’t think you’d notice unless you knew what to look for. They do have a slight blue tint, so an ophthalmologist I consulted for this article knew I had the coating right away.
Speaking of which, he, and others in the field, are somewhat skeptical about the actual value of blocking off blue light. The quality coatings aren’t cheap, either. So I’d call this one more of a toss-up. Especially since the latest and greatest monitors and phones give you an opportunity to reduce blue light, I don’t think I’d get new glasses just to get blue blocking unless I really spent many hours every day staring at older screens.
Free-Form Progressive Lenses Claim to Be “HD” for Your Eyes
Advances in computer-aided design and manufacturing have made it possible — although expensive — to customize the optics in progressive lenses. They can be made with wider or narrower distance or reading vision areas, for example. Both near and distance can’t both be super-wide, for example, since some area is needed to transition between prescriptions. But the tradeoff can be optimized for the way you use them. The shape of the lens can also be customized to your specific measurements and visual habits. In my case, our optician had me hold reading material, and look into the distance, and carefully noted where my eyes naturally rested. Based on that, he could specify the exact parameters to be used in my new lenses.
Vendors of free-form progressive lenses claim several resulting advantages. First, they should feel more natural, as the prescription in the lenses is designed based on the way you view things. Second, they are supposed to reduce glare and enhance contrast and color. As a sales pitch, they’re often marketed as “HD for your eyes.” I happen to have two nearly identical pairs of progressives, one with and one without a free-form design (a version of Zeiss’s Individual 2 in my case), so I’ve been able to do a homebrew comparison.
As far as overall vision in good light, I haven’t seen much difference. Both pairs correct my vision very well. What I have noticed is that seeing while driving at night seems improved with the free-form set. I suspect that is because of increased glare reduction, which in turn improves contrast. For even more control, there are free-form designs that do even more granular customization using an optician-provided app. However, those were even more money and I decided I didn’t need to go that far.
Aveo Vision: Aiming to Use High-Tech to Disrupt the Contact Lens Market
Founded by a contact lens wearer who struggled with existing lenses hurting her eyes, Aveo’s new daily-wear Hello contacts are marketed with an aggressive array of high-tech features. The company promotes its Aqualock technology that helps keep the lenses moist as a “Spa Day” for your eyes. Similarly, its aspheric optics are promised to give you “HD vision.” Even the dual-tapered shape of the lenses are branded as BlissEdge. Best-in-class breathability is also stressed. Indeed, they use a reasonably-breathable material, but so do some others. Aveo also claims a high-level of UV protection.
To get a sense of whether all these great buzzwords translate into a superior product, I alternated wearing a pair of Hello lenses with a pair of my current favorite lenses, Acuvue’s TruEye daily-wear disposables, on a day-by-day basis on an extended trip that included a lot of days of all-day outdoor activity. For starters, I should point out that the feature set for both brands of lenses reads nearly identically. TruEye has Hydraclear for keeping the lenses moist and claims the highest level of UV protection in the industry, for example. The Hello lenses have an oxygen permeability of 36.7 (x 10^-9), which is enough for daily wear, and typical of 58 percent water lenses like they are. The TruEyes, which are 46 percent water, come in at a refreshing 118 (x 10^-9), which is up there with extended wear lenses.
As to the field test, the good news is that both lenses are great. If you are going to be able to wear contacts at all, these may be the ones (I moved to daily-wear lenses when I had issues with dry eyes using other kinds). The only glitch I found with the Hello lenses is that they’re flimsy. This doesn’t matter at all once you get them on, but it made it a little trickier to get them out of the container and into my eyes.
As to the claims of UV protection, both brands claim they are industry leading, but TruEye has better numbers. TruEye says they block 99.9 percent of UVB and about 96.9 percent of UVA, while Hello cites 97 percent of UVB and 87 percent of UVA. Our local optician thinks that unless the numbers are very close to 100 percent it isn’t really worth claiming as protection. My homebrew test revealed that a visible amount of 400nm got through with both of them, so I wouldn’t say that either is a complete substitute for wearing sunglasses (and contacts only block UV from the center of your eyes, not the rest of your eye or eyelids).
So, while Aveo has done a remarkable job by catching up with an established brand in a short amount of time, I don’t think the company’s big innovation is in the lenses themselves. Instead, it is likely in its high-profile, direct-to-consumer marketing, and its aggressive pricing of an innovative prescription model. For $1/day the company will send you a box containing 30 pairs of lenses each month. In contrast, even at discount outlets, TruEye lenses will cost you about $1.65/day. Top-of-the-line Oasys lenses are even more expensive, at over $4/day. For anyone on a budget or who’s stayed away from daily-wear lenses due to price, this could be compelling.
How to Tell if You Need Glasses
Of course, the best way to find out if you need glasses is to have regular eye exams with an eye doctor. In the course of the exam, they’ll test your eyes and if needed provide a prescription you can use for contacts or eyeglasses. However, if you want to do a quick check on your own, you can certainly print out an eye chart like the one we’ve shown here from Vision Source, and tape it to the wall.
That will only give you an idea of distance acuity, though. Zeiss has provided an online version of a vision test that also gives you an idea of whether you are partially color blind. Note that online tests are quite dependent on the quality of your monitor, so take the results with a grain of salt. Aveo Vision has just introduced a $20 online test, that can then be used to get your prescription renewed online. I’m not entirely sure what I think of that. It’s great that it is accessible and inexpensive, but if people use it instead of being checked by a doctor, they aren’t going to know if they have other eye problems. It also only works if you’re at least 18 and not over 55.
The Value of an Optician
If this was a review of camera lenses, or earbuds, or disk drives, I might be all for you rushing out to buy whatever I thought was awesome. But vision care is a key health issue, complex, and highly personalized. So, in addition to having regular checkups with an ophthalmologist or optometrist, it is worth considering the value of a relationship with a local optician. Ours is very helpful at letting me try a variety of contact lenses and prescriptions, testing and retesting my visual acuity after correcting with different lenses and sorting through options on glasses.
That said, there are some pretty good values online if you know what you’re getting. Aveo, for example, provides a high-quality product for a good price. But some online contact lens sellers use older, cheaper, materials. That can be especially problematic if the material used doesn’t provide enough oxygen to keep your eyes healthy.
Now Read: New medical tech coming to the rescue for the vision-impaired, Hearing Aids: Better, Cheaper, and More Accessible Than Ever, and VR and Now AR Medical Solutions Are Gaining Ground in Hospitals.
Top Image Credit: Wikimedia