It’s been about six weeks since I tried a pair of scleral contacts—special lenses that can help people with irregular corneas or severely dry eyes. In my case, the issue is Sjogren’s Syndrome. It’s gotten so bad over decades that my vision deteriorates by mid afternoon, as my eyes get dryer. Eye drops don’t seem to help that much.
So it has been a true miracle to discover the scleral lens option. When I wrote about this in May, my big accomplishment was being able to insert a sample pair with help from the wonderful faculty and students at our local college optometry clinic. A couple of weeks ago, I faced a second test: could I insert and remove them myself? The answer, after about a half hour of trying on each eye, was an amazing yes. Dr. S, who runs the dry eye teaching clinic, had given me 50:50 odds to set realistic expectations, and was even more excited than I was that I could do it.
With the lenses being fully refundable if I couldn’t manage or tolerate them on my own, I gave the green light to order a custom pair. Dr. S explained that fitting scleral lenses is an iterative process, like going to a tailor. There are many adjustments to make, in the loft of the lens above the cornea, which is filled with saline and moisturizes the eye, as well as the particular shape.
Last Friday, I went back to the clinic to try out my new lenses. This time, it took me only a half hour total to insert both, on my own, with guidance from one of the fourth year optometry students. The result, even as the left lens prescription needs to be strengthened and the fit of both lenses needs some tweaking, was nothing short of remarkable. I could see so much better.
At the end of my three-hour visit, at Dr. S’s request, I spoke to a group of the fourth year students about my experience with scleroderma and Sjogren’s. I’m always glad to teach, and it was the least I could do for the help and support they all are giving me. I’ll be back in a few weeks, when the next lens iteration arrives.
Meanwhile, I took the lenses home to build my skills with inserting and removing, and to help my eyes begin to heal. And I can see clearly—at a distance. In fact, I can see more clearly than I have at any time since I was a child who didn’t need glasses. Not only that, my eyes can tolerate a windy day and bright sunlight, which has bothered me for years due to dryness.
But it’s not a slam dunk. While it’s possible to create scleral lenses with an adjustment for bifocals, the result, I was advised, is often not successful. So these lenses only correct my myopia. I need reading glasses to see up close. Unfortunately, the lenses blur my vision for reading and the computer more than my natural sight.
Drugstore reading glasses present one solution—cheap, easy to get. But if you’ve ever used magnifying reading glasses, you know, as I’ve discovered, that when you turn your head, everything gets distorted. They also are clunky. I’ve found some online resources that I may try, with better options. I’m also debating whether to repurpose old lightweight frames as prescription reading glasses. This is all still new, and a lot to sort through.
Bottom line: While I was hoping to get out of glasses altogether, that’s actually not the main point of scleral lenses. They can save my eyes from further corneal damage. And I’m finding, on Day Two of wearing them on my own (four hours a day is the initial limit as my eyes adjust), that I have more tears after removing them for the day. I’m not sure why this is the case, but it’s an unanticipated plus. I’m also discovering how much I’ve been missing.
To say I’m grateful is an understatement.
Image: Amber Flowers