Contact lens manufacturers are stepping up in terms of producing innovative new products.
"The [CL] market is $2 billion annually, with about 2% growth anticipated in 2010," Dr. Nichols said. "The ophthalmic sector as a whole was up in 2009, as it has been each year for the past 5 years. So the ophthalmic field is strong, especially if you compare it [with] benchmarks such as the Standard & Poor's 500 Index."
Market research indicates that most optometrists think the CL portion of their practice will grow this year, added Dr. Nichols. That's important when CLs represent about one-third of a typical practice's business.
What trends should optometrists be prepared for in this important market? Look to soft CL materials, new solutions, and fitting a younger population, Dr. Nichols said.
Soft materials will continue to dominate the marketplace, and silicone hydrogel (SiH) lenses in particular are poised to continue increasing in popularity.
"When broken down, the market has been and will remain comprised of about 90% soft materials and 10% hard gas-permeable lenses," said Dr. Nichols. "If you dig a little deeper into the numbers, you'll find strong growth in [SiH] lenses. Within the past 2 years, we passed a landmark when 50% of all new soft contact lens fits were (SiHs). In 2009, 60% of soft lens fits were (SiHs). We anticipate that to continue to grow up to perhaps 75% in the next 2 years."
Dr. Nichols said the industry is anticipating the U.S. launch of the first daily wear SiH-based contact lens (TruEye, Vistakon), which is already available in Europe. In addition, optometrists have several options in toric SiH lenses that have become available in recent years, and have proven to be tremendously popular.
"If you look at segments of spherical to toric to multifocals, we see a little bit of decrease of spherical lenses being fit, but an increase in fits of torics and multifocals," Dr. Nichols said. "We've got a number of options in torics and multifocals, and practitioners are using them. That's great and grows those market segments."
In addition to the lenses themselves, there's always buzz about new solutions being launched from various companies, he added.