Contact lens manufacturers welcome update to contact lens fitting guidance

The updated guidance from the College of Optometrists means non-medical contact lens fitting can take place in the amber phase of the pandemic

fitting contact lens
Getty/Charday Penn

Contact lens manufacturers have welcomed an update to the College of Optometrists COVID-19 guidance on non-medical contact lens fitting.

The update to the guidance means non-medical contact lens fitting can now take place during the amber phase of the pandemic.

The College of Optometrists originally advised that the fitting of non-medical contact lenses for new patients should not be carried out until the ‘green’ phase of the pandemic, except for ‘essential purposes’.

However, this has now been adjusted following a consultation which highlighted ways to mitigate the risk around contact lens application and removal teaching, as well as recent evidence on the low risk of infection via the tear film.

The updated guidance outlines that practitioners should carry out a risk assessment of whether and how to safely fit a patient with contact lenses.

Practitioners should also assess their own levels of comfort with undertaking the procedure. If proceeding, the guidance emphasised that they should wear the appropriate personal protective equipment and ensure infection control procedures are followed “scrupulously.”

The guidance also set out a number of measures for contact lens fitting, including advising that patients wear a face covering, and carrying out contact lens teaching in a socially distanced way. Suggestions included getting the patient to watch a video on the techniques before practising in a quiet area of the practice, or using a transparent plastic screen to separate the patient from the teaching practitioner.

Speaking to OT, several contact lens manufacturers welcomed the update to the guidelines, suggesting this meets the changing needs of both patients and practitioners.

Jonathon Bench, head of professional affairs for Alcon UK & Ireland, said he was pleased to receive the updated contact lens fitting guidance.

Mr Bench shared: “Having had many discussions with optometrists, contact lens opticians and practice owners across the country it was apparent that clarity was needed on this point.

“We are pleased that the evolving needs of eye care professionals and their patients have been taken into consideration as we see contact lenses as a critical means of helping people see brilliantly.”

Neil Retallic, European professional services director for Menicon welcomed the revision, suggesting “it allows practices to return to fitting contact lenses for wearers who are truly in need.

“We would suggest this should include people who have to wear PPE or face coverings in their workplace, many of whom have issues with spectacles steaming up," he added.

Also commenting on the potential for contact lens fittings to particularly benefit spectacle wearers who are needing to wear masks regularly, Krupa Patel, CooperVision’s head of professional services said: “We are hearing a lot of noise about spectacle lenses getting steamed up with mask wear; and whilst this can be a nuisance for the general public, for our health care workers this can hinder them in their day job.
“Practitioners can now better address the needs of their patients by fitting contact lenses again with the backing of the College.”

Ms Patel highlighted that contact lenses offer “a safe way to correct vision” with no evidence to suggest contact lens wearers are at any greater risk from COVID-19.

Contact lens subscription programmes to existing customers offered practices a stream of income, and “protected the revenue of many practices through lockdown,” Ms Patel suggested.

She added: “We know that many practices are keen to continue to grow their contact lens wearer base to protect them further in the event of a second wave of COVID-19 and further lockdown.”

The College of Optometrists explained that there were several factors that informed the initial advice against non-essential contact lens fitting during the pandemic. These included the close proximity to the patient, the need to touch the patient to insert the lenses, as well as the time a novice wearer would need to spend in practice for the fitting and teaching process.

“Practices have now made adaptations that make such close contact safer,” the College of Optometrists shared in the guidance.

The guidance did highlight that while recent evidence has concluded the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission through tears is low, there is a potential risk, “and so a thorough risk assessment must be performed and all infection control procedures scrupulously followed to minimise the risk as much as possible.”

The College of Optometrists said it has approached the public health authorities for their view on whether contact lens fitting is safe to resume for non-medical reasons, and is awaiting their view, but has taken the decision to revise the guidance in the meantime.