By Amy Hellem
Sharp, stable vision is more than a luxury for athletes—it’s a necessity that competitors, student athletes and weekend-warriors take quite seriously. As such, athletes often seek out eye doctors who have a reputation for offering care and products that are tailored to their more particular demands.
Expertise with specialty lenses is one of the most important tools used in developing a winning reputation in the eyes of sports enthusiasts. Here are three ways you can leverage your skills to better serve patients in this exciting niche.
1. Put your Best Foot Forward
Is a serious runner more likely to spend 50 bucks on department store shoes or $100 on custom orthotics? Patients who are truly passionate about a sport will rarely be satisfied with off-the-shelf options. Most often, they will instead purchase equipment from someone who is knowledgeable about their specific needs.
What’s more, there’s no reason why that someone can’t be you—the eye doctor who understands the visual challenges of running in the dark on a rainy night, or riding a mountain bike on a dusty trail, or staring motionless in anticipation of a fast pitch.
But where should you start? “Number one, if you are serious about helping the athletes, you have to have the best products available,” says Alan Berman, OD. “In order to start helping athletes see better, you have got to put them in a product that will give them their maximum vision.”
2. Offer the Necessary Equipment
If you want to make sports equipment for the eyes your specialty, you’ll need to consider the dynamics and environment of play as well as the physiological characteristics of the patient’s eye.
Wearing contact lenses instead of glasses or goggles gives athletes a number of benefits. However, until recently, fitting contacts was a tricky endeavor since athletes require superb optics but shouldn’t generally be fit with GPs due to lens movement, lens awareness, and the risk of debris getting under the lens.
Thankfully, hybrid lens designs have resolved this need for extreme compromise. These lenses deliver the vision of a gas permeable lens, while a soft skirt prevents dust and dirt from getting under the lens, and comfort is not an issue.
3. Hone In On The Specifics
When selecting a contact lens for an athlete, an understanding of the dynamics of play and the patient’s position are critical. For example, does the patient require stability in a prolonged upward gaze or is rapid eye movement typical in the sport? When fitting lenses, you will need to ensure positional stability.
“Athletes are in various positions,” says Dr. Berman. “Their head, their body, the ball that they are looking at is in motion, so it is important to have a lens that is stabilized.” Toric lenses can be troublesome in this regard, since athletes can’t risk waiting for lenses to reorient.
For this and other reasons, fitting contact lenses on athletes with astigmatism presents challenges. On the one hand, even small amounts of cylinder need to be addressed because they can impact performance. However, lens rotation is not ever acceptable. A hybrid lens like Duette that is not affected by lens rotation is preferable in such cases.
Environment plays a role as well. Beyond the need to keep debris from getting under the lens, UV protection may also be required. Many lenses, including Duette, offer UV blocking characteristics, which is essential for athletes who engage in outdoor sports.
“Athletes are very competitive people and they will do whatever it takes to get better,” says Dr. Berman. “All it takes is helping one or two athletes and they are going to tell their teammates; they are going to tell their parents; they are going to tell their friends — and it just kind of mushrooms,” he concludes.
By fitting custom lenses like Duette you can give athletes the edge they need to win. And, in doing so, you’ll build loyalty within your patient base, and will likely reap the benefits of countless referrals as well.
Amy Hellem is an independent writer and researcher who specializes in ophthalmology and optometry. Previously, she served as editor-in-chief of Review of Optometry and Review of Cornea & Contact Lenses and directed the custom publishing division for Review of Ophthalmology.