Contact Lenses around the World: Crossing Cultural, Economic, and National Borders

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Without a doubt, the last two decades have seen an enormous growth in the trend of wearing contact lenses. Today, contact lenses are made with new technologies and processes that allow them to be more breathable while remaining more moisturized, so they are more comfortable and cause less irritation to the eyes. Furthermore, they are considered by many to seem more aesthetically pleasing than glasses for everyday use, and are more comfortable for use during sports and outdoor activities. But experts have noticed that this trend is not only limited to the members wealthy populations in Europe and North America, but that contact lens use is spreading across cultural, economic, and national borders. Even countries that may be considered “third world” with large impoverished and underprivileged portions of the population, which may counter our stereotypical beliefs about contact lenses in terms of cost and use. Learning about the increasing and spreading use of contacts can help us to understand the importance of continually making contacts available worldwide, and the future of vision correction on a global scale.

Changing Times, Changing Culture: How Society Changed the Contact Lens Market

With a world population totalling just over 7 billion, it might be surprising to know that the world market for contact lenses totals around 7 billion dollars – certainly a large growth considering that the market has grown by 1 billion dollars as compared with the figures from 2010. Many analysts agree that this market will continue to increase exponentially, doubling in value by the year 2015. Can we attribute this increase to population growth alone? Certainly not: particular changes in global society and popular culture are driving more and more females, especially within the Asian market, to switch to contact lenses. Now more aware of proper use standards and more educated about the benefits of lenses, women from China and Hong Kong have begun using them at a much higher rate within the last decade. No longer fearful of contacts and with increased availability of less expensive household and grocery products, we are noticing a trend within continental Asia of the increase expenditure of disposable income on fashion-related items. Contact lenses are not considered a luxury expense anymore, especially in countries that are population-dense that have a cultural appreciation for fashion, such as Brazil, Argentina, and Chile, and other Latin American countries.

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Fast Growth in New Markets: The Cases of South America and Africa

Though the last two years have seen a spike in contact lens purchases in Africa and South America, experts agree that these will be the areas in which the contact lens market experiences the fastest growth throughout the coming few years. The growing economies in these areas lead to increased disposable income, and when vision correction methods are prescribed by doctors, many are suggesting a switch to disposable contact lenses, which can be replaced much more cost-effectively than glasses, in case of damage. Also, doctors only need to take a person’s prescription into account when ordering contacts and can be instantly used, while glasses require aesthetic choices and assemblage that may take additional time away from the clients who need vision correction as soon as possible.

Easier Access with Changes in Technology

The developments in internet technology are part of the reason that we are witnessing an increase worldwide in contact use – especially since these technologies are reducing the costs of personal computers and internet access. Now, people can order lenses online instead of having to shop at a physical location, so they are granted easier access to a wide variety of brands, styles, and prescription strengths without leaving the comfort of their own home.  Often, prescriptions may be required for purchase, so a visit to a clinic might still be necessary. But clients who have accessibility to buy directly from manufacturers or discount providers instead of only through local optometry shops are able to avoid retail markups, and have the ability to compare pricing plans and locate special deals through various search engines that reduce costs dramatically.