Skip to Main Content

Cheap lenses not worth the hassle

By Sasha L Radford, OD

The Hubble Space Telescope was launched into Earth’s orbit on April 24, 1990 and constitutes one of the major astronomical advances of our time. Outside of Earth’s hazy atmosphere it has been able to capture images of our universe with a clarity far exceeding that of telescopes on land. The Hubble is expected to operate until at least 2020. Meanwhile, NASA is currently constructing its successor – the James Webb Space Telescope – slated to be launched in 2019.

If the mere mention of the Hubble Space Telescope made you think of contact lenses, you’re not alone; if you’re an eye doctor, you may groan. There’s been a lot of buzz recently about Hubble Contacts – an online company that advertises daily disposable contact lenses at a cost of $1.00 per day. Founded in 2016, Hubble Contacts was named after NASA’s Hubble since the telescope required a sort of “contact lens” to correct an error in its optics that caused image distortion and blur.

How does Hubble Contacts compare with the Hubble Space Telescope?

The Hubble Space Telescope’s primary mirror is 2.4 meters across. Hubble Contacts are 170 times smaller at 14.2 mm.

The Hubble Space Telescope has produced more than 1.3 million images since 1990. Hubble Contacts has sold over 10 million pairs of contacts since 2016.

The Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990 and has had several repairs and upgrades to improve its performance. Hubble Contacts are made of methafilcon A, a soft contact lens material that was FDA approved in 1986 and hasn’t changed since.

So why do I groan whenever I hear about Hubble Contacts? There are several reasons.

First and foremost is the outdated contact lens material that is used, methafilcon A, which was released when I was in grade school and was used in several different brands of contact lenses. By the time I graduated optometry school in 2003, there were only a couple of lenses still made with methafilcon A. By that time, research had uncovered a common culprit of problems with contact lens wear – corneal hypoxia (decreased oxygen to the cornea). For decades, contact lenses acted as a barrier to oxygen, leading to complications that caused intolerance to contact lens wear and/or permanent vision loss.

The property of a contact lens that allows oxygen to pass readily through it is called the Dk. We now know that to maintain corneal health, the Dk of a contact lens must be at least 24. Hubble contact lenses have a Dk of 18. Most contact lenses I fit today have a much higher Dk, typically over 50 and often over 100. I want my patients to have the healthiest eyes possible so I do not fit low Dk lenses.

Secondly, there have been many reports of patients ordering Hubble contact lenses without a valid prescription from an eye doctor. Contact lens sellers are prohibited from releasing a contact lens supply without a prescription because contacts are a medical device, and as such, there are risks associated with wear. Many patients have taken their contact lens prescription, which specifies a particular brand and measurements, and ordered Hubble lenses instead. Unless their prescription says “Hubble Contacts”, they are not receiving the same lenses they were prescribed.

Without proper fitting by an eye care professional, patients could be stuck with lenses that are too loose, too tight, decentered, uncomfortable, or inferior in vision correction. A poorly fitting contact lens may not be noticed by a patient until more serious complications develop. For patients with dry eye syndrome, contact lens material is carefully chosen to assure good comfort. In my experience, there may be only one particular lens – a specific material, base curve, diameter, and design – that meets the needs of a patient in this scenario.

While Hubble requests the name of the prescriber when ordering lenses in order to verify a valid prescription, this has been circumvented by many patients by entering incorrect information or none at all. In a December 2016 article on Quartz Media’s website, the author successfully received contact lenses from Hubble after entering a sham prescription and a fabricated doctor’s name.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard patients say “I only have two eyes!” and then proceed to tell me all the horribly unsafe things they do that put their eyes at risk. But it’s true, vision is precious, and you do only get two eyes. Is this really the area to cut expenses? You may save 10-15 cents a day by ordering Hubble’s product, but what you could lose is worth so much more.