For Terry Sohl, dry eyes wasn’t just a painful nuisance, it was ruining his life.
“My eyes were so dry, it affected my vision,” remembered Sohl. “My hobbies include photography and drawing, and I couldn’t do the things I once loved. At work, I could barely read the words on my computer screen.”
Three years ago, Sohl was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome, a condition that affects the immune system and causes painful side effects. Most notably, extremely dry mouth and eyes.
He exhausted a number of options trying to find relief, from religiously applying eye drops to wearing moisture goggles.
“I was at the point where I didn’t care what I looked like!”
Seeing Sohl’s misery and pain, Gregory Hill, OD, Optometrist at Avera Medical Group Ophthalmology Sioux Falls, suggested specialized contact lenses that combat severe dry eye.
Scleral lenses are named so because they cover nearly all of the sclera, or the “white” of the eye. Unlike regular contact lenses, scleral lenses have an extra spacious vault that never touches the cornea. Rather, this vault is filled with a preservative-free saline solution before the wearer places the lenses in the eyes.
“The cornea bathes in this tear reservoir all day, keeping dry eye at bay,” explained Hill.
While regular contact lenses are mass produced to fit the vision needs of any patient, scleral lenses are custom made for the individual patient. They take into account not only the prescription, but the curve and cornea size as well.
Hill described the four main steps he takes when fitting a patient for scleral lenses:
- A topographical map is taken of the eyes, measuring the cornea, sclera and any surface irregularities.
- The patient then wears each trial lens for about a half hour, trying different shapes to determine how much vault is necessary.
- Hill incorporates the patient’s prescription — just like for regular contact lenses and eyeglasses.
- The measurements and prescription are sent to a lab where scleral lenses will be created just for this patient.
Sohl has been wearing scleral lenses since November of 2015, and their effect has made a drastic impact. “They have been life-changing,” said Sohl. “Not only did it save my hobbies, but it also saved my job.”
Because putting the cornea in a tear bath for long periods of time is so therapeutic for the eye, scleral lenses have been proven effective in helping people with more than just dry eye, said Hill. Their unique shape — the high vault — can help people suffering from a number of different issues, including:
- Thyroid issues that cause the cornea to be overexposed due to the eyelids not covering enough of the eye surface
- Distortion of the cornea due to complications following surgery, including laser correction, implants and transplants
- Chronic keratitis due to inflammation, poorly healed injury or permanent damage from old infection
“Those with scar tissue on their eyes have seen their condition regress with the use of scleral lenses,” said Hill. The space between the lens and the eye provides a therapeutic fluid reservoir to promote healing.
And even those without eye disease can enjoy the stability of scleral lenses because they provide impressive optical clarity. When worn, the lens locks into place and doesn’t move. Hill mentioned another example that those participating in water sports are using them for their stability and protective nature.
“I know there are people out there who are frustrated and miserable,” said Sohl. “Scleral lenses have been a perfect solution for me.”