By: Nathan Klein OD
In April 2018, the FDA approved the very first photochromic contact lenses in yet another step to help protect our patients from the harmful effects of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet light rays as well as it’s blue light emissions. With more than 42 million Americans wearing contact lenses, this development could potentially shake up relative market shares for the myriad of contact lenses that currently saturate the market. The FDA approval was specifically for Johnson & Johnson Vision Care Inc.’s Acuvue Oasys Contact Lenses with Transitions Light Intelligent Technology which are soft contact lenses intended for daily use for a maximum of 14 days.
Just as with the Transitions ophthalmic lenses, these contact lenses contain special patented photochromic dyes that cause the lens to activate, or darken, when exposed to ultraviolet rays from sunlight. When the UV light diminishes, the lenses fade back. As light conditions change, the level of tint adjusts, offering the right tint at the right time. In it’s April 11, 2018 press release announcing this FDA approval, Johnson & Johnson proudly proclaims, “These contact lenses quickly and seamlessly adjust from clear to dark in response to changing light conditions; reducing exposure to bright light indoors and outdoors, including filtering blue light and blocking UV rays.” Very importantly, and to their credit, in their footnote to the PR release, J&J warns: “‡WARNING: UV-absorbing contact lenses are NOT substitutes for protective UV-absorbing eyewear such as UV-absorbing goggles or sunglasses because they do not completely cover the eye and surrounding area. You should continue to use UV-absorbing eyewear as directed.” We are all keenly aware of the far higher incidence of eyelid cancers, pingueculas, and pterygium from increased UV sun exposure, particularly as one approaches the equator. Naturally, the newly approved photochromic contact lenses would not offer protection from these ocular maladies.
If one is wearing contact lenses outdoors, during daylight hours, even when opting for the newly approved Johnson & Johnson Acuvue Oasys Contact Lenses with Transitions Light Intelligent Technology, it remains of paramount importance to wear sunglass protection with UV-400 blocker and polarization to greatly minimize the risk of developing drusen, macular degeneration, or ocular melanomas. The photochromic contact lenses will certainly offer more protection than wearing contact lenses with zero protection, however, this level of protection is suboptimal. Maximizing one’s protection from the harmful UV and HEV (high energy visible) light rays is key, especially considering key factors such as the latitude where one lives/works, duration of outdoor exposure (especially mid-day), proximity to water (due to additional exposure from light reflected from the water), altitude, and a myriad of other factors.
Essilor, one of the industry giants in ophthalmic lenses and lens materials, teaches at their sponsored educational courses that Transition lenses offer a certain degree of requisite protection, but that their Xperio sunglasses provide the greatest depth and breadth of protection from the harmful sun’s rays in their entire line of products due to the lenses being polarized and incorporating unparalleled UV and HEV light protection. The Xperio website states, “Xperio UV polarized prescription sun lenses provide the ultimate protection from UV rays on both sides of the lens. With an Eye-Sun Protective Factor (E-SPF®) of 50+, you get the highest level of UV protection offered within the E-SPF index.”
The recently approved Acuvue Oasys Contact Lenses with Transitions Light Intelligent Technology utilize the same patented technology from Transitions Optical and therefore do not include polarization nor the same degree of UV and HEV light protection as the Essilor Xperio nor other sunglass lines known for excellence in quality of protection, such as Maui Jim.