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Contact lens manufacturers are becoming increasingly interested in what's known as "plasma treatment." In addition to helping doctors make more comfortable lenses for the general public, influential members of the tech industry believe plasma treatment can help them develop the high-tech contacts of the future.
Great contact lenses should have the perfect balance of oxygen permeability and wettability. The problem with silicone hydrogel contacts is that they enhance oxygen permeability at the expense of wettability. Many manufacturers have noted that while silicone-based contacts allow five times more oxygen, they are also extremely hydrophobic.
Due to this hydrophobia, is it any wonder so many contact lens wearers complain of dry eyes and discomfort nowadays? The solution to this problem, eye doctors hope, is to use plasma treatment to coat all silicone-based contacts in the future.
In addition to making contacts more wettable, plasma treatment has been shown to inhibit the rate of biofilm accumulation and promote stronger bonding patterns. All of this makes plasma-treated contacts far more comfortable than any other contact lens currently on the market.
Besides making contacts more comfortable, plasma treatment has also been shown to greatly reduce the amount of cloudy spots that often appear in silicone hydrogel lenses. These cloudy patches are often created by deposits of lipids and proteins in the surface of the contact lens. The plasma treatment has been found to naturally repel lipids from the surface of contacts.
Plasma treatment is also being used in many intraocular lenses for cataract patients. Eye surgeons report that adding a plasma surface layer to intraocular lenses helps them perform their procedures in less time and with less hassle. The current intraocular lenses are made out of silicone and acrylic, which both form an extremely sticky surface. The plasma coating makes the surface far less tacky and, therefore, more easily manipulable for surgeons.
But it isn't only doctors that are thrilled about the prospects of plasma treatment. Techies believe plasma treatment could greatly help them advance the still nascent field of augmented reality (AR). In particular, the tech company Innovega is working on an AR system called iOptik using plasma-coated contacts.
Users of Innovega's high-tech lenses will be able to see a foregrounded computer display as well as the objects of the real world. Innovega is able to achieve this technological wonder by implanting a micro-lens into each contact lens.
As mentioned above, Innovega chose to use plasma treating on all of its contact lenses. The two main reasons Innovega went with plasma treatment have to do with improved wettability and reduced lipid deposits. Innovega continues to work with plasma systems experts at the company PVA TePla to better understand the nature of plasma treatment and incorporate it into the iOptik system.
Doctors expect the wider diffusion of plasma treatment will only help million of patients experience more comfortable and effective contact lenses in the near-future.