Features: Contact Lenses


Fielding Hits with Contact Lenses

Athletes rely on keen visual systems to provide sharper visual acuity to give them that competitive edge. Whether this is a result of fine-tuning as they’ve become better athletes or an indication of why they are such good athletes in the first place is an ongoing debate. However, there is little debate among eyecare professionals when it comes to helping enhance an athlete’s visual performance. Contact lenses win hands down as the vision correction device of choice prescribed by ECPs who work with athletes at all levels.

In fact, approximately 97 percent of eyecare practitioners prefer contact lenses over spectacles for the active patient, according to an Optometric Trends in Sports Vision study conducted by Pacific University College of Optometry in Forest Grove, Ore., in 2000. Those results are currently being tabulated, notes Alan Reichow, OD, a professor at the school and a vision consultant for Nike. “Fifteen to 20 years ago, only 84 percent of practitioners preferred contact lenses,” he says.

Contact lenses are functionally better for the athlete primarily because they don’t fog and they provide peripheral vision. Even more importantly, they can be visually better for the athlete. In fact, some practitioners determine contact lens design and power based on the athlete’s visual strengths and sport. For instance, optometrist Michael Peters typically prefers contact lenses to refractive surgery even for athletes with no financial restraints. “A Major League Baseball player who can attain 20/10 vision with contact lenses may end up with 20/20 vision after refractive surgery. That could mean the difference between seeing or not seeing the seam of a fastball. Baseball is a sight-specific sport, where seeing even one unit off can make a huge difference in performance,” says the Raleigh, N.C.-based optometrist at 11-unit Eye Care Associates.

Dr. Peters is familiar with elite athletes. He treats members of the National Hockey League’s Carolina Hurricanes, players with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates’ minor league teams as well as the Carolina Cobras Arena Football team. He also works with amateur athletes in such sports as racquetball, tennis, softball, skeet and soccer. In fact, he says about 90 percent of his patients engage in some kind of athletic activity.

While Dr. Peters is careful to fit baseball players with lenses providing the sharpest vision, he explains the level of acuity is not as critical for other sports. “Hockey players are jostled a lot, so we focus on fitting them with a more durable lens. With football, too, we may allow some acuity to slide depending on position. For example, we fit the skills players—quarterback and wide receiver—with the best visual acuity they can get because their positions demand great vision.”

Boca Raton, Fla.-based Lawrence Lampert, OD, agrees that lens design options may need a careful review depending on the sport. “I treated a skydiver who used to lose his contact lenses in his mask after jumping. We were able to avoid that problem by fitting a larger diameter lens,” he notes.

Some doctors concentrate on correcting only distance vision for presbyopic golfers.

Contrast sensitivity can plummet if there is surface build-up on the contact lenses, adds Dr. Reichow, which is why he does not recommend extended wear lenses to athletes. The Pacific University study shows most practitioners agree, with 78 percent of professional athletes wearing soft contact lenses and 31 percent wearing daily wear disposables, he notes.

“High water content is an important consideration for scuba divers whose lenses become [uncomfortable and less effective] the deeper they dive,” says William Leadingham, OD, of the Visual Therapy/Sports Vision Center in Ashland, Ky.

Practitioners need to develop their own arsenal of tried-and-true lenses. Dr. Peters looks to core products as his first-line of correction. And, he says, they need to learn where to focus the athlete’s vision. For instance, he concentrates on correcting only distance vision for presbyopic golfers, reminding them that if they “hit par, they don’t have to take score.”