Google Glass has been hogging the spotlight when it comes to eyewear, but get ready to see new technology designed for those stuck with old-fashioned prescription eyeglasses.
About 64 percent of Americans wear glasses to improve vision. Many can’t stand them, complaining that glasses are cumbersome, headache-inducing or don’t work in all situations. Meanwhile, the growing amount of time people spend in front of computers and mobile devices has raised concern also about the potential damaging effects on eyesight.
That’s spurring innovation among eye specialists, who say the glasses industry has been largely stagnant since Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals in the 18th century.
“It’s a marketplace with slow technology adoption. There hasn’t been new technology in eyeglasses in forever,” said Stephen Kurtin, chairman of Superfocus, which makes adjustable-focus glasses that enable wearers to choose the best focus for every distance.
Other specialized specs on the market include glasses for golf, biking, and outdoor activities such as gardening, where the wearer’s head is down slightly, according to Jay Russell, manager of the optical/contact lens departments for Charlotte Eye Ear Nose & Throat Associates. In the case of outdoor activities, Russell said a special lens can reduce the effect of ultraviolet rays bouncing into the eye.
One “pair of eyewear doesn’t need to be a universal fix anymore,” Russell said. “You can have different glasses” to meet different needs.
Companies are designing a host of solutions to aid glasses wearers, including futuristic lenses, and even an iPhone application that developers say can help people wean themselves off glasses.
One area of focus has been on reducing eyestrain for people who spend several hours a day staring at computers, tablets and smartphones. Many optometrists believe the light emitted from such devices could damage viewers’ eyesight over time, although that hasn’t been proved.
Still, lens companies are rolling out a slew of new lenses that they say will help ward off those potentially harmful effects.
“Why would you take the risk? Let the science unfold, and let us protect ourselves as it’s unfolding,” said Don Oakley, president of VSP Optics Group, which this year introduced its Unity with BluTech lenses at 30,000 eye-doctor offices in the United States.
BluTech lenses are infused with melanin, a natural pigment found in the iris of the eye, to help filter out high-energy blue light and UVA/UVB radiation while allowing what Oakley calls “innocuous” light to pass through.
The melanin gives BluTech lenses a yellowish hue. It’s available for any prescription. Other companies produce lenses with blue-light filtering coatings.
Oakley said BluTech lenses reduce eyestrain and fatigue from long hours at a computer. Adding BluTech lenses to a pair of glasses typically costs less than $100. They can be worn indoors and outdoors, and can be added also to nonprescription glasses.
He cautioned that BluTech “doesn’t prevent anything per se, but it protects.”
Although many eye doctors think all that time staring at your smartphone is bad for your eyes, one firm is encouraging people to use mobile devices to improve their vision: GlassesOff Inc. is gearing up to launch an iPhone app this year that it claims can enhance near-vision sharpness.
The notion that people can improve their eyesight through eye exercises has drawn skepticism from some optometrists and ophthalmologists. But in a paper published in the journal Scientific Reports, the scientists behind GlassesOff said participants in a study at the University of California-Berkeley showed a nearly 10-year improvement in eye age. That enabled them to see more than two lines further down an eye chart and achieve normal or near-normal visual performance.
Adjusting the focus
In the past few years, one of the new lens technologies that has gained the most traction is adjustable-focus eyeglasses.
The glasses are intended for people afflicted by presbyopia, an aging condition that affects the eye’s ability to focus on close objects, and are made by a handful of companies, including Van Nuys, Calif., company Superfocus and Britain’s Adlens.
Superfocus’ adjustable-focus glasses feature fluid-filled lenses and a slider on the nose bridge. Users can adjust their lenses by moving the slider.
Staying in fashion
Technically advanced eye pieces can still look fashionable, said Russell with Charlotte Eye Ear Nose & Throat.
“Fashion drives the optical lens industry just like it drives any other aspect of what you would wear,” Russell said. “… Because of advances with lens materials and everything else, they don’t have to look any different from any other pair of glasses.
“There’s never been more variety than there is now.”
Observer reporter Celeste Smith contributed
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