In the 13th century Italian monks fashioned the predecessors of our modern spectacles from partially ground lenses made of beryl crystals found in the mountains. Much has changed since then with regard to the development of vision solutions. Vision problems can be solved in more individualised ways than ever before and measurement methods are constantly becoming more precise. But what are the latest developments and trends in the ophthalmic optics area? To find out, BETTER VISION asked two lecturers who teach in the Ophthalmic Optics course offered at Aalen University in Germany.
BETTER VISION: Mr Meyer, Mr Rath, how has the ophthalmic optician's profession changed over the past ten years? How has training changed?
Volker Meyer: It's important to note that ophthalmic optics has become a differentiated field over the last ten years. On the one hand, spectacles are constantly being offered at ever lower prices; while on the other, professional ophthalmic opticians are specialising and offering top quality, as well as sophisticated, customised vision solutions. Similar developments can also be observed in other product areas.
A second trend is that some ophthalmic opticians are focusing more on fashion, while others specialise more in spectacle lens technology, i.e. optometry.
Heinrich Rath: It's possible to specialise in spectacle lens technology to this extent because the equipment has undergone further development in recent years. There are now hugely improved options for taking increasingly precise measurements. For example, take the i.Profiler® by ZEISS. Training for the next generation of opticians must take this equipment into account. At the same time, many new products are appearing on the market, such as specialised spectacle lens solutions and frames. It is increasingly necessary to work with spectacle wearers to analyse their individual situation in order to identify the optimal vision solution. The multiple new technologies make comprehensive consumer consultation more important than ever! It's now the case that at our institution around 50 % of the training and final examination relates to the craft, while the other 50 % relates to consultation.
BETTER VISION: What new products are avaible and do they require special consultation?
Volker Meyer: Vision has changed and naturally, spectacle manufacturers like ZEISS are responding, by developing vision solutions that are adapted accordingly. Using computers, smartphones and navigation systems now play an important role in our daily lives. The result is a greater diversity of vision situations. Our eyes switch between various viewing distances more frequently and rapidly; close range for reading, intermediate range for computers and navigation systems, as well as clear vision into the distance especially while driving. This also places new demands on progressive lenses in particular, which offer the ability to see at multiple viewing distances in a single spectacle lens. ZEISS has developed spectacle lenses called officelens that can be optimised specifically for intermediate viewing distances based on a consumer's particular needs. All this ensures that the spectacle wearer has clear, relaxed vision tailored to their specific visual situations.
Heinrich Rath: Of course, this means that I have to provide spectacle wearers with very specific consultation. One pair of spectacles cannot meet every need, and I must work closely with consumers to determine if they require an extra pair of spectacles for specific visual tasks, such as sunglasses, or playing sports.
Volker Meyer: The measurement devices now offer more options to the ophthalmic opticians who use them than previously. The i.Profiler® allows us to perform measurements using wavefront technology. This gives us an exact profile of each eye – while also showing us how vision behaves when the pupils are largely dilated in twilight and darkness. Based on this, we can learn a lot; not only about the prescription, but also about other vision problems, such as the onset of cataracts. If eye problems of this latter kind or potential conditions are found we recommend that consumers visit an ophthalmologist.
Heinrich Rath: As ophthalmic opticians we want to be as precise as possible, but naturally we also want to work in a way that consumers can understand. Ultimately the consumer must know exactly what they are receiving in exchange for their money. We use the i.Terminal® 2 to fit the spectacle lenses into their frames. In this task, every millimetre counts. To fully take advantage of the capabilities of the lens and to ensure relaxed vision, it's important that the spectacle wearer's range of vision at close, intermediate and long distances pass through the area of the spectacle lens that has been designed for this range.
It therefore relies on the equipment taking precise measurements. Of course, there is also a great deal of human skill and craft that goes into it. As an ophthalmic optician, I must be able to read and apply the measured data, select the appropriate product and finish, select the spectacle frames based on the vision requirements, then centre and adjust the frames comfortably and properly on the nose and ears. In this regard I now have considerably more options than I did ten years ago! Quality is achieved through these details, and this is what differentiates the mass spectacle market or spectacles ordered on the internet, from professional ophthalmic opticians, which focus on quality.
BETTER VISION: Do people see better now than in earlier years?
Volker Meyer: Yes! Ophthalmic opticians like us can make consumers see better. Unfortunately, due to the increasing number of cheaply-produced spectacles, vision can also be impaired. The technology, time for precise adjustment and degree of customisation simply cost more money than simple solutions. Spectacles are never a standard product, but always an individual one.
Heinrich Rath: You can tell that this is the case simply because you can never test the product in advance. Spectacles must first be produced and then they must fit, that's the art. If it doesn't work and one has headaches, for example, errors may have been made in adjusting many small screws. Alternatively this may be caused by the frames; such as if they were previously made of metal and were lighter, and now are made of horn and too heavy. There can also be psychological reasons why someone simply isn't happy with their new spectacles.
Volker Meyer: And people simply have to get accustomed to their first progressive lens spectacles. Our brain also helps with this! After a time, the brain knows which area of the spectacles it must look through in order to see optimally. Conversely one can also become used to "incorrect vision". In this case, people can suffer back pain due to poor posture or do not fully exploit their vision potential. We ophthalmic opticians must provide individual consultation for all these issues.
Heinrich Rath: When the first progressive lenses were developed, a well-known professor said: "Progressive lenses won't find acceptance." At that time, bifocal lenses were still in fashion; they featured two lens areas on every spectacle lens and caused, what is known as, image displacement. Progressive lenses don’t have this issue, however, every lens does have an area that is optically undefined. This area will be larger or smaller depending on the quality and design of the lens. Of course, the professor knew about this issue, but failed to consider the processing power of our brain. Physical vision is not the same as perception, after all. Progressive lenses are now the spectacle lens of choice for presbyopia and are extremely popular.
BETTER VISION: Where do you think the next developments concerning spectacles will lead?
Volker Meyer: Advances will continue to be made with regard to the quality of spectacle lenses and spectacle lens design. We have not yet reached the end, in this respect. We must also be able to improve progressive lenses even more. I also think that something will happen in the area of spectacle lens materials leading to thinner, lighter spectacle lenses. There is also still development potential in the area of silicate spectacle lenses, i.e. mineral lenses.
Heinrich Rath: I also think there will be further developments with regard to photochromic, self-tinting spectacle lenses. It would be great if one day we were able to adjust the tint of spectacle lenses using an app on our smartphones...