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Vision Breakthrough - Varifocal Contact Lenses

May 2013


Mike Ward is a well known journalist. You may well have recently read his reports from his roles as the TV Critic of the Daily Star and TV Editor of the Daily Express Saturday. He recently visited high street eye specialists Vision Express to be told about new varifocal contact and has decided to share his experiences with Laterlife...


A chilly Saturday afternoon in late December, and I assumed I'd be spending the next couple of hours bumping into walls.

Not that I had any reason to complain: I'd known, before leaving the house, that I'd be dropping off my glasses at my local Vision Express in Brighton. My new lenses had arrived – just a routine upgrade – so I'd need to leave my frames there for a short while for the fitting bit. But like a prize idiot, I'd forgotten to come out with any back-up specs.

If your eyesight is anything like mine – where, without some kind of optical assistance, the world takes on the appearance of month-old minestrone soup – this is quite a major error. But, like I say, it was my own stupid fault.Mike Ward's uncorrected view of himself

My uncorrected vision of myself can be quite weird!

Sometimes, however, fate makes you do jolly stupid things for a jolly good reason. And, as I was about to find out, this was precisely such an occasion.

When the nice Vision Express lady asked: "Would you like us to fit you with some contact lenses until your glasses are ready?", my natural, instinctive response was to say: "No, thanks."

I had, after all, gone down this contact lens route before. Twice, in fact. The first time, to the best of my recollection (and please bear in mind that the shockingness of my eyesight is matched only by the hopelessness of my memory) had been about 20 years earlier, when I'd doggedly persisted with them for approximately a month.

The reason I'd eventually abandoned that initial experiment was threefold. First, it had taken me forever to put them in – I'm afraid I was one of those people for whom this process just wouldn't come naturally.

Second, the discomfort that I'd been told would gradually ease off had simply persisted. Even after three weeks of steady acclimatisation, my eyes appeared to be in a permanent state of weepiness. To passing strangers, I must've looked as if my gerbil had just died.

And third, I had bags. A big one beneath each eye – not caused, let me stress, by the lenses themselves but merely the result of some hereditary nonsense. My glasses, worn since the age of 13, had always done a rather fine job of camouflaging these.

The lenses left them exposed for all to see.

So anyway, that was failure number one.

Failure number two must have been about, ooh, I'd say 10 years later. From what I can recall, the discomfort wasn't nearly such a big issue this time, but I still just couldn't get my head around the insertion and extraction process. I'd always been a bit of a wuss that way.

And that, I'd assumed, was that. I was forced to conclude I just wasn't a contact lens person. I knew lots of friends who swore by them, but I was more inclined to swear AT them.

Hence, bringing us bang up-to-date – to that Saturday afternoon last December – my polite refusal of the Vision Express lady's offer of a temporary fitting.

But here's the strange thing. Something inside me – call it a hunch, call it a gut instinct, call it a touch of wind – insisted that I should take up the offer. To hell with my previous experiences. Lens technology had surely come on in leaps and bounds since then. Maybe, just maybe, it would be third time lucky. Wouldn't that be nice? It would indeed.

So, yes, she fitted me with a temporary pair – they went in remarkably easily, to my mild astonishment – and off I pootled.

And immediately I thought, golly, there's something odd going on here. Odd in a really good way, that is. Odd because I was being forced to re-evaluate all my old anti-contact lens prejudices. Odd because they felt fantastically liberating. No discomfort, no weeping, just a remarkable clarity.

They weren't perfect, of course. They were just a temporary off-the-shelf pair (I'm sure that's not the correct expression, but you know what I mean) but if you'll pardon the scientific jargon here, they were pretty blinking nice.

Indeed, their only real weakness became apparent when my wife and I went for a spot of lunch at a nearby pizza place – where I realised I couldn't read the menu. My standard glasses, you see, are varifocals: the same specs miraculously do the job whether I'm viewing objects in the distance or reading something directly in front of me. They're dead clever that way.

"If only," I remarked, "someone could invent a varifocal contact lens. That way, I might seriously give them a go."

"Yes, if only they would," agreed my wife – not so much out of tenderness and sympathy, I sensed, but because having to read the menu for me was proving a right pain in the neck. I had the four-cheeses one, by the way.

A couple of hours later and I was making the very same remark, apart from the bit about the four-cheese pizza, to the Vision Express people as I fetched my newly re-lensed spectacles.

And can you guess what they said?

Well, all right, by this point you probably can. But humour me for a moment and pretend you can't, OK? Keeps up the suspense of the story.

What they said (wait for it) was: "You CAN have varifocal contact lenses, Mr Ward. They make them now. Would you be interested in trying some?"

And so I thought, what the heck, why not, eh? I'm mighty adventurous that way.
The specialist lens man then kindly talked me through the science behind this comparatively new breakthrough. Naturally, I didn't understand a word – I've always been rubbish at science – but I could tell this was impressive stuff.

I shan't bore you by detailing the step-by-step process that followed (mostly because I've forgotten, to be honest), but rest assured it was blissfully straightforward. You do need a special contact lens eye test – different from the one for glasses – but there's nothing remotely off-putting about it.

To cut a long story short, I've ended up trialling these Vision Express varifocal contact lenses for several weeks now and I'm seriously impressed. For reasons I can't quite fathom, I've learned to insert and remove them in next to no time, while the liberating sensation I experienced with that initial trial pair is something that I still get weirdly excited about.

My job involves watching TV for a living, but it also involves taking lots of notes, reading documents (some of them on my iPad, others as printouts), so I'm forever having to switch between distant and close-up tasks.

Amazingly, this has presented me with no problems: wearing varifocal contact lenses for my day job has been as pleasant and unobtrusive an experience as wearing my trusty specs. I never imagined I'd be saying that.

I shan't be switching to varifocal contact lenses on a permanent basis. I still have the family bags, I still love my Vision Express glasses and there are days when my laziness simply makes specs the preferable option.

But to actually have the choice, for the first time in my life, and to be able to ditch the specs whenever I feel like it, is – to coin an expression first used by no less than the great William Shakespeare – pretty flipping marvellous.

All in all, it's been something of an eye-opener.

If you might be interested in varifocal contact lenses, more information is available at:
Or simply call in at your nearest Vision Express.


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The above article is part of the features section of called laterlife interest. laterlife interest contains a variety of articles of interest for visitors to written by a number of experienced and new journalists.

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