Eye Opener

Vision researcher
sees the world
through tinted lenses
Susan Stenson,
By Andrew Karp

While some people prefer to see the world through rose-colored glasses, Susan Stenson, MD believes that a person’s choice of lens tint may not always afford them the best vision. Tints and other light filters are Dr. Stenson’s special interest.

A clinical professor of ophthalmology at the New York University (NYU) School of Medicine, Dr. Stenson was the lead researcher in a recent clinical study sponsored by Transitions Optical in the emerging field of Vision-Related Quality of Life (VRQOL) that defines a patient’s overall visual experience based upon their visual acuity, visual comfort and long-term vision protection.

“Up until now, there was no single source eyecare professionals could consult for a comprehensive discussion of issues related to light and sight,” says Dr. Stenson. “By gaining understanding of the various aspects of vision-related quality of life, eyecare professionals can offer patients more comprehensive eyewear solutions to meet their patients’ overall visual needs.”

Transitions has published a monograph summizing the research findings; eyecare practitioners can order a complimentary copy from the company.
Dr. Stenson has extensive experience in clinical research into photochromics, leading several previously published studies. A past president of the Contact Lens Association of Ophthalmologists and director of the Contact Lens and Cornea-External Diseases Services at NYU, Bellevue, she is in private practice in New York.

L&T asked Dr. Stenson to discuss her research and how ophthalmic lenses and lens treatments figure into VRQOL.

How did you become involved with the study of Vision-Related Quality of Life?
A few years ago, the vision research team at the Department of Ophthalmology at NYU Medical Center became interested in how various lens treatments might affect both quantitative and qualitative measures of visual acuity. We did experiments with fixed and variable tints to see how they could affect patients’ perception of good vision. We wanted to go beyond the concept of 20/20 vision, so we studied the effect of different filters on contrast sensitivity and glare sensitivity. A body of work already existed, but there had never been a real study that combines basic science and clinical studies in a lab setting.
We wanted to determine if, in some diseased eye states, whether certain filters would improve vision. We studied people with cataracts, which is the most common disability. Our subjects only had moderate cataracts and were not ready for surgery. We assessed their visual performance in the lab, exposed them to different filters and assessed them compared to normal controls while noting their visual preferences.

What’s the best way to choose a tint?
The important thing, clinically, is that people don’t always pick a tint based on how they will see with it. Often patients will select a tint based on how the tint looks to them rather than how the tint is going to affect their vision. I wonder how many people are dissatisfied with their choice when they go out into the real world. It’s important for practitioners to recommend to their patients that they look through a tinted lens, not just look at it.

What are some other aspects of VRQOL that you plan to explore?
I’d like to see a study done on what the optimal tints are to use with progressives, especially gradients. A combination of progressives or bifocal lenses in a photochromic gradient design would be a good direction to explore for presbyopes who to want to maximize their distance and reading vision under varying light conditions. With a tint or filter, you gain and lose something. We need to find out what is optimal.

How can ECPs make use of your findings?
Eyecare practitioners need to realize that testing vision with a Snellen chart is not enough anymore. People want quality of vision. They know what products are available.

Ophthalmology has risen to the occasion when it comes to perfecting cataract surgery, for example. But when it comes to spectacles, it’s not the same. Not all of us are doing our job in that regard. Ophthalmologists fancy ourselves as surgeons, but most patients evaluate us in terms of how well they see with the spectacles or contact lenses we prescribe or recommend to them.

My role is to educate ophthalmologists, optometrists and opticians that we have more to offer than 20/20 vision. We have the technology to offer our patients excellent quantity and quality of vision, but only if we present to them the full of range of options available.