Acuvue contact lenses release antihistamine for eye allergies
Drug-releasing contact lenses are here
The first contact lenses that release eye medication are available in the United States. In March 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Acuvue Theravision contacts with Ketotifen for ophthalmic use.
These daily disposable lenses relieve itchy eyes from allergies by releasing the antihistamine Ketotifen during use.
After years researching the possibility of drug-delivery contact lenses, more options may soon be available for other eye issues as well.
About the new drug-delivery contacts for allergies
Acuvue Theravision with Ketotifen are new drug-releasing contacts from Johnson & Johnson Vision Care. Eye doctors can prescribe them to contact lens wearers who have itchy eyes caused by allergies.
Common eye allergy symptoms include:
When allergies cause you to have eye-related symptoms like the ones listed above, this is known as allergic conjunctivitis. A patient with allergic conjunctivitis will usually also have other allergy symptoms such as sneezing, coughing and a runny nose. Unlike bacterial and viral conjunctivitis, it is not contagious.
The new Acuvue Theravision contacts with Ketotifen can start working in as little as three minutes after being put in, and their therapeutic effects can last up to 12 hours.
It’s worth noting though that Acuvue drug-releasing contacts cannot be used to treat red eyes. Patients whose eyes get red or irritated when using Theravision contacts should take the lenses out right away.
How drug-releasing contact lenses work
In general, drug-delivering contacts work by releasing the drug into the thin layer of fluid between the cornea and the contact lens. Because this fluid doesn't mix quickly with the rest of the tear film, the drug can stay in contact with the eye for an extended time.
Some technologies that are being studied also allow contact lenses to release medication in timed, controlled doses over a set period of time. This offers promise for treating a variety of chronic eye diseases, eye infections and even eye injuries.
Are drug-releasing contacts better than eye drops?
Drug-releasing contacts offer a major innovation in the treatment of itchy eyes, and soon possibly other eye conditions. But contacts that deliver drugs have pros and cons, and they're not for everyone.
Some of the advantages of drug-releasing contacts over eye drops for allergies and other conditions may include:
Better patient compliance
More consistent dosing
Higher bioavailability, meaning more of the drug can be used by the body
Unlike with eye drops, patients who use contacts for vision correction may be less likely to forget a dose of medicine or to take it at the wrong time.
However, these contacts have downsides as well. The main disadvantages of drug-releasing contact lenses include:
Best suited to patients who need vision correction
May not be usable if a patient has certain symptoms or conditions, such as red eyes or dry eye
Side effects of wearing contact lenses may occur
The main disadvantage is that these contacts may not be an option for certain patients who don't need vision correction or whose vision correction needs fall outside available parameters. For example, Acuvue Theravision contacts are only for patients with low amounts or no astigmatism.
As with any contact lenses, the risks or side effects of using drug-releasing contacts include eye irritation, corneal abrasions or perforation, and increased risk of eye infections like pink eye. This includes rare but serious eye infections such as acanthamoeba keratitis that may threaten vision.
Who can benefit from contacts that release drugs?
There's a specific but large group of patients who can benefit from contacts that deliver eye medications. In fact, over 30 million people currently wear contacts and meet the parameters of these lenses. That group includes patients who:
Can tolerate wearing contact lenses for an extended period
Have an eye condition that can be treated with drug-releasing contacts
Right now, these contacts are only available for patients with eye allergies caused by pollen, pet dander, mold, smoke or other environmental triggers. But other drug-releasing contacts may be available for conditions such as dry eyes or glaucoma in the future.
READ MORE: A Guide to Acuvue Vita Contact Lenses
The future of drug-releasing contact lenses
Drug-releasing contacts offer promise as a new way to deliver medications to treat a variety of eye issues. Here are some of the eye conditions that may be able to be treated with contacts in the future:
Contacts that deliver drugs may be able to be used to treat dry eye syndrome in the future. Or, they may be able to help patients who have trouble tolerating contact lenses due to dry eyes.
Drug-releasing contacts may eventually be able to deliver antibiotics, antivirals and antifungal drugs directly to the eye. This may be helpful for treating bacterial eye infections, eye herpes (ocular herpes) and fungal keratitis, which is currently hard to treat and can cause blindness.
Drug-delivery contacts may offer a new way to treat glaucoma in the future. Various studies have been done using different methods of putting glaucoma drugs into soft contact lenses.
One of the benefits is that drug-releasing contacts may be less likely than glaucoma eye drops to cause systemic side effects. Also, people with glaucoma may be able to get full treatment benefits by wearing contacts periodically for a short time.
Drug-releasing contact lenses show promise as a possible future treatment for patients with diabetic neuropathy. This is good news for patients with diabetes because this chronic condition can cause vision loss if left untreated.
These technological advances mean that people with a variety of eye conditions may be able to get their eye medication delivered seamlessly through their contacts in the not-too-distant future. As with the drug-releasing contacts for allergies, this likely won't be an option for all patients but could be helpful to many.
READ MORE: VUITY eye drops for presbyopia
What if I have allergies but don't wear contacts?
If you have allergies but don't wear contacts, you won't be able to use the new Acuvue drug-releasing contacts. But there are other ways to treat itchy eyes and other eye allergy symptoms.
Your eye doctor may suggest you avoid allergy triggers. You may be able to do this by staying inside when pollen counts are high, wearing sunglasses to shield your eyes from dust, or washing your hands and clothes after visiting a home with pets.
There are also eye drops and other medications that can help. Existing eye allergy treatments include:
Allergy eye drops
Allergy eye drops may include antihistamine eye drops or corticosteroid eye drops for severe cases. But these must be monitored by your eye doctor due to risks and side effects.
Another option may be allergy shots (immunotherapy), a series of injections to help your body react less to the allergen over time. See your eye doctor for an eye exam and specific recommendations on the best way to treat your itchy eyes from allergies.
READ MORE: Smart contact lenses
The coming rise of drug-delivery contact lenses. Review of Optometry. August 2021.
Johnson & Johnson Vision Care receives FDA approval for Acuvue Theravision with Ketotifen – the world's first and only drug-eluting contact lens. Johnson & Johnson Vision. March 2022.
What are eye allergies? American Academy of Ophthalmology. January 2022.
Soft contact lenses as drug delivery systems: A review. Molecules. September 2021.
The first drug-releasing contact lens is here. Wired. March 2022.
Acuvue Theravision product information. Johnson & Johnson Vision. Accessed July 2022.
Contact lens risks. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. September 2018.
An advance for drug-eluting contact lenses: Delivery to the back of the eye. Boston Children's Hospital. September 2019.
Drug-eluting contact lens shows potential in first in-human study. European Pharmaceutical Review. March 2021.
Page published on Tuesday, August 16, 2022
Page updated on Monday, August 15, 2022
Medically reviewed on Monday, July 18, 2022