Patient excitement for a contact lens is created when the first lens placed on the eye provides good vision and feels great. Success in contact lens wear depends upon the patient achieving their vision, comfort and eye health goals. At one time patients could only choose between rigid gas permeable lenses (RGPs) and soft lenses so patients often had to compromise on either vision or comfort. Today there is another technology option available called the hybrid contact lens. A hybrid contact lens combines the superior vision benefits of an RGP lens with the comfort benefits of a soft lens. Hybrid lenses have come a long way since they were conceived in 1977. Now in the 4th generation, the hybrid lens category has evolved to offer patients with all types of vision problems an opportunity to experience the benefits a hybrid contact lenses offers.
Hybrid Lenses – How they started.
The quest to develop a contact lenses that provides the opportunity for crisp vision and unparalleled comfort began in 1970 with the experimentation of placing a RGP lens on top of a soft lens known as a “piggyback system”. By using this piggyback combination, comfort was improved over RGP lenses and the quality of vision improved from soft lenses. The added benefits of good centration and increased lens stability on irregular corneas created a lens design used for the more complicated cases. The disadvantage of a “piggyback” system is the inconvenience of managing the four separate lenses. Also, on already compromised eyes the lack of oxygen and the possible adverse events of corneal swelling and blood vessel growth can be an issues with piggybacking lenses and always requires additional doctor follow up visits. It seems reasonable if we could create a single contact lens with the advantages of both RGP and soft lenses, all the disadvantages of contact lenses would be solved. This was the first step in creating the revolutionary hybrid contact lens.
Two scientists named Erikson and Neogi had the idea that a combination lens with a hard center and soft skirt could be developed. They patented technology that made this possible and that technology was acquired by a company called Precision Cosmet in 1977. This first “hybrid” design was known as the Saturn® lens. The idea behind this hybrid contact lens concept was to improve the performance and comfort of an RGP contact lens for irregular corneas.
In March of 1982, a pre-market investigation took place and the Saturn® lens was granted approval by the FDA in April of 1984. With minimal customizable options and low oxygen permeability, the Saturn® lens was relegated to a problem solving lens. Saturn lenses typically exhibited very little movement, called “tight lens syndrome” resulting in red eyes and problems of night time glare.
In 1986, a company called Sola Barnes-Hind then purchased the hybrid contact lens concept and technology and set forth to redesign the lens to address the performance issues. They named the product SoftPerm®. The SoftPerm® lens, was made out of the same material as the Saturn lens. It had the advantage of improved comfort and additional parameters to properly fit patients. However, because the lens had low oxygen permeability and issues with the center separating from the soft skirt, the lens was still only used as a lens of last resort. A third redesign in 1989 by Sola Barnes-hind created the new SoftPerm lens but this design also suffered from its low oxygen permeability, and practitioners were still hesitant to accept it as a lens of first choice because of feared complications. Problems associated with lens sticking to the cornea and acute red eye problems further inhibited the use of these lenses. The SoftPerm lens was discontinued in 2010.
Today, a company called SynergEyes is the only company successfully making hybrid contact lenses.