Contact lens cleaning and soaking fluids

Changing customs re hygiene and disinfection.

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Optical hygiene has always been of particular importance for contact lens wearers, but ideas as to what this required have changed significantly over the years. Museum visitor Jeffrey Wallder told us:

In 1957 when I was fitted with haptic lenses at Moorfields Eye Hospital we were told to use Stergene for cleaning and soaking them (a liquid detergent) and to use spit as the wetting solution.

Allergan LC-65 bottle

Sterile solutions

Allergan's well-known LC-65 sterile lens cleaning solution was first launched in 1965, hence the name, and the museum collection includes a bottle from 1966 as well as others through the 1980s to the item we have illustrated which is a later sample with a use-by date of 2002, meaning it was probably manufactured in the very late 1990s. Between 1987-1993 Allergan was also the owner of Hydron. It was later swallowed up as part of the pharmaceutical giant SmithKline. The labelling makes clear that this is a solution for use as a 'daily' contact lens cleaner but the bottle is small (just 30ml capacity) reflecting concerns that sterile solution might 'go off' once opened.

Contactasol, 1970s

We may contrast that with the larger bottle (120ml) of Hydrosoak, a 1970s sterile solution in Great Britain made by Contactasol Ltd. The appearance of this sample's packaging exactly matches that from an advertisement dated 1975. It is one of several items that came to the museum in 2004 in an optician's bag that had not been opened for over twenty five years.

Former Contactasol employee David Feld 'contact'-ed us to say:

Hello, College of Optometrists! Having Googled 'Contactasol', I came across the only result - on your website. You might be interested to hear that, back in 1983-4, I was living in New Malden, and was taken on by Contactasol (a short walk away from where I was staying) as Manufacturing Assistant on the late shift (16.00-24.00hrs). It was my first job in Industry. I actually made Hydrosoak and several other solutions - including 'Sun-In', a hair-bleaching product, which I used to see advertised on the Tube! I survived Contactasol for a year.

My colleague, Chris Clarke, and I made 1-ton batches of them, and they were then filtered through 0.22µm Pall filters, through a wall and into the sterile filling-suite. We also disinfected the whole suite, including the filler-head cabinets, after every production day. We also took swabs, especially of susceptible areas, for the Microbiology laboratory to test (and my being a Microbiologist, this was no problem for me).

The suite was reached through a unisex, step-over changing-room from the manufacturing area. I have strong memory of the perfume of one of the 'older' ladies!

Retained samples were kept for two years, together with a lot of junk, in the false ceiling, which was used as a mezzanine.

In the back of the building, there were also two presses which made most of the plastic containers for the sterile solutions. I remember helping to change the high-precision stamps. The bagged-up bottles were sent by the pallet-load to the Gillette site in Southampton to be gamma-irradiated. Some bottles which couldn't be irradiated were dry-heat sterilised (another of my jobs) in an oven in the manufacturing area. The same department also made contact lenses.

Some of these solutions were provided in patient starter kit with other accessories including sterile cases, suction holders and mirrors.

ReNu flight pack 2008

Multipurpose solutions, such as 'ReNu' by Bausch & Lomb, were developed that claimed to clean, rinse, disinfect, lubricate and store. ReNu was one of the first generation multi-purpose contact lens solutions to become available. Devised in 1986, it was launched in the UK in 1994. Following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 restrictions were placed on the carrying of liquids onto aircraft. This had particular repercussions for contact lens wearers on long-haul journeys so ReNu came up with a special 60ml 'flight' size contained within a transparent zip-sealed plastic bag suitable for taking through airline baggage checks.

Liprofin pre 1996

Cleaning solutions did not only come in bottled form. In the 1990s contact lens practitioners might be supplied with a box containing foil sachets for mixing up an intensive cleaner for soft hydrophilic contact lenses. One such product was Liprofin by Alcon. It was intended for professional use, not for the use of patients and might have been used in a heated cleansing unit.

Focus sterilising unit 1980s

Sterilisers, stirrers and washing machines

We have various such units in the museum including a Russian example intended for direct plugging into the mains electricity. Illustrated on this webpage is a brown 1980s example by a company called Focus. The unit was effective but must have been awkward to assemble and use. Although it heats up, technically speaking the unit is not a steriliser. The cleaning action was carried out by electrically-powered stirring. More sophisticated cleaners used magnetism.

'Complete Rapidcare' contact lens washing device

In the twenty first century much research has gone into designing a 'washing machine' for patients to clean their own contact lenses. This item, designed in 2000 by entrepreneur and contact lens wearer Charles Ifejika, gained exposure as a competition entry in the 'Best Inventions' television programme produced by the BBC. Launched commercially as the 'Complete Rapidcare' in late 2003 it was claimed that this was the first proven, pocket-sized, powered cleaning device for contact lenses. It was designed for use as part of a wider 'complete' cleaning system set of products.

A Modern Health Scare

Soft fitting set pre 1999

Finally we illustrate the kind of contact lens fitting set used in College of Optometrists examinations up until 1999 when scares concerning new variant Creutzfeld-Jakob disease (vCJD) - the so-called human version of Mad Cow Disease, caused the Department of Health to advise against unsealed, re-usable fitting sets. The ZL9 lenses were a proprietary Madden & Layman design. The College of Optometrists was at the forefront in advising practitioners on how to respond to the ruling.

The longer term effect was that research into the hygienic cleaning of fitting lenses was replaced by efforts to produce a cheap but reliable sterile fitting set for once-only use.