Since contact lenses were first widely implemented in the early 20th century, the industry has been marked by several innovations. The earliest contact lenses were heavy and cut out of glass on a lathe. Over time, contact lenses became more and more comfortable, until daily disposables took over the market. As of 2015, about 25 percent of all contact lens users wore dailies.
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It’s no surprise, then, that new innovation is shaping the contact lens market in the present, and forecasts for the future spell a similar trend: smart contact lenses. Here, we’ll explore what they are, their purpose, and their potential for growth over the next decade.
What Are Smart Contact Lenses?
The increase in demand for wearable “smart” devices like watches, glasses, and more has raised a question for the technology sector: what else is possible? Smart contact lenses can act as medical devices, health trackers or gauges, audio and video recorders, and the possibility is even being explored of using smart contact lenses to perform as a computer.
Contact Lenses as Medical Devices
In March 2018, a company called TheraOptix won the grand prize at a health care innovation competition with a groundbreaking contact lens. When used, this contact lens was able to deliver around-the-clock eye medication to the wearer without obstructing their vision.
In the past few years, there have already been advancements in this area — for example, a Swiss company makes a lens that tests the user’s eye pressure 24 hours a day to monitor symptoms of glaucoma and the device does have FDA approval.
If perfected, this technology would open up a new horizon for people with eye disorders like AMD (macular degeneration), glaucoma, cataracts, Ocular Surface Disease (dry eye) and more. According to the makers, the lens not only can dispense things like medicated eye drops for people with dry eye disorder, but it can also treat more complex eye conditions like macular degeneration, which usually needs to be medicated using an injection in a doctor’s office.
Obviously, the future is more than bright for this area of smart contact lens technology.
Contact Lenses as Health Trackers
Contact lenses being able to keep track of health metrics and data are a little more in reach in the short term. Much like other wearable tech like smartwatches and fitness trackers, these lenses would use the delicate and sophisticated states of the eye to measure specific eye health data like eye pressure and tear production to track the symptoms of glaucoma and various other non-eye related medical conditions.
New lenses have recently hit the market, and have shown, on a smaller level, what this technology might look like in the future. A Korean research team is currently testing a contact lens for people with diabetes that tracks and stores data regarding glucose levels, measured from testing tears.
Smart contact lenses could be especially practical for the elderly to monitor a myriad of medical conditions, assuming they would be open to fitting something like a smart contact lens. The elderly are at heightened risk for AMD and other eye health conditions, many of which are relatively undetectable without specialized diagnostic equipment.
Contact Lenses as Computer Technology
Smart contacts have potential outside of the arena of health and medicine as well. Samsung is one of the first pioneers to develop a smart contact lens that uses eye movement or blinking to control the recording of video footage. They have also created an ocular interface similar to that of the Google Glass which records the data on a devise using Bluetooth-like technology (although, this would be much less conspicuous).
The vision is eventually, people will be able to fit tiny, undetectable computers on their eyes. The technology has successfully been tested with a single LED on a lens, though with only one pixel, it’s difficult to extrapolate into a picture of what a successful piece of technology will look like in the future.
Where are Smart Contacts in Development?
As we discussed, different technologies are in different developmental stages, but it’s safe to say that no area is fully free of obstacles before it can be rolled out to the public in large scale. For example, there are still improvements needed with Theraoptic’s medication-dispensing lens in some applications. The blood-sugar testing contact lens concept is still in its infancy, as is Samsung’s computer contact lens.
Still, though, Market Watch projects that the market for smart contact lenses will reach 7.2 billion USD in revenue by 2023. This is based on virtually limitless untapped potential; eventually, someone will bring one of these concepts fully to market, and no one wants to miss the boat when it does happen.
Capitalizing on Contact Lenses
For everyday ECPs, we may not have access to this exciting new technological frontier when it comes to contacts… yet. But you can still grow your business and increase revenue from products that continue to command a larger and larger eye industry market share. With Click Optical, you get the ability to capture more contact lens sales from your patients, allowing you to grow your business and strengthen the doctor-patient relationship inside and outside of your practice.