How far has eye care evolved due to technology?

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We’ve reached a stage in human history where medical science is evolving fast, and even people with untreatable diseases are holding out hope that new inventions will save them. Life-changing technologies are developing thick and fast – some cancers that were a death sentence 30 years ago can now be cured 95% of the time on an outpatient basis. But what about eye care? One of the consequences of these advances is that, on average, we’re living longer, which means that most of us will now experience eye problems at some point in life. Can technology also help us with those?

eye care technology

Glasses

Glasses have been around since the late 13th century, when they were made in Italy from glass or crystal and held up to the eyes like modern opera glasses. They have evolved considerably since then (modern frames first appeared in the 1700s, around the same time that scientist Benjamin Franklin invented bifocal lenses), but over the past two decades their development has advanced spectacularly. This is due in large part to the introduction of polycarbonate lenses, which are more resilient, thinner, and more easily shaped. New materials have also made frames lighter, more durable, and easier to style.

Contact lenses

Contact lenses have been used since the end of the 19th century, but for many decades they were heavy pieces of glass and not comfortable to keep in place for more than a few hours. Modern lenses are made from a variety of different plastics and offer far more options. They can be kept in the eyes for much longer, bifocal versions are available, and there are disposable options. The latter include ultra-soft lenses, which can even be worn by people with dry or highly sensitive eyes.

Corrective surgeries

While glasses and contact lenses used to be the only options for shortsighted and longsighted people, the last two decades have seen the rapid advancement of simple outpatient surgeries that can correct these problems once and for all. Though they’re still not suitable for everyone, around 90% of people can be treated with current methods, and rates of serious complications are very low. As well as laser eye surgery, lens insertion techniques are an option, with different solutions suiting different individuals.

Diagnosing disease

Though there are still a number of diseases out there that can seriously damage the eyes and cause blindness, we’re getting much better at identifying them in the early stages, making treatment more effective. Importantly, this is not only happening in the Western world but also in developing nations, where increasing access to treatment can extend people’s working lives, improving local economies and thus benefiting everybody. Glaucoma specialist Rohit Varma has spent much of his career studying eye problems in ethnic minority populations in the US, identifying problem genes and thereby helping with diagnosis all around the world.

Preventing disease

Once people are aware of the specific eye health risks they face, which can also be traced through family history in some cases, they can take action to reduce those risks. Eating a healthy diet and quitting smoking help improve overall eye health, and sunglasses with modern UV filters (not just a dark tint) reduce eye damage caused by sunlight.

Resolving modern eye problems

Unfortunately, just as technology can improve eye health, it can also damage it. If you’re doing a lot of computer work, you should take regular breaks to relieve your eyes and reduce the risk of harm. Modern screen technology is helping to reduce the damage done by extensive work with computers, and these improvements look set to continue, but users also need to take precautions themselves.

Restoring sight

Among the more exciting developments in eye care over the past few decades have been technologies aimed at restoring sight to those who have lost it. Quick and simple laser procedures for removing cataracts have made it possible to restore sight to people even in remote regions without hospitals. Stem cell techniques are helping to restore damaged retinas, and tiny robotic implants can restore partial sight to people with macular degeneration by sending information picked up from cameras directly to the optic nerves.

All of these exciting developments mean that we no longer need to take it for granted that our sight will deteriorate badly as we get old. While this will still be the case for some people, there’s now a much better overall chance that you will be able to enjoy clear vision throughout your life, with healthy eyes that look good and feel great.

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