- The Washington Times - Monday, August 7, 2006

Eyes may be the windows of the soul, but with Nike’s much-touted MaxSight contact lens, the only view many athletes’ opponents will get is an intimidating crimson stare.

The contact lens, created by Nike Inc. and Bausch & Lomb, is the latest in athletic eye care. Many, however, ask whether the lenses live up to Nike’s hype or if MaxSight is more flash than substance.

Though the prescription-only lenses’ red or gray-green sheen gives athletes an intimidating — even disconcerting — gaze, this predatory edge is just a fringe benefit. The main purpose of the MaxSight, says Bausch & Lomb representative Tor Constantino, is to “selectively [filter] specific wavelengths in light to visually enhance key elements in sport.”

The MaxSight is designed to overcome the main source of blurred vision in bright locales: chromatic aberration, the eye’s inability to focus all frequencies of the visible spectrum onto one point of the retina. By filtering 95 percent of blue and UV light, the MaxSight reduces glare and allows the eye to focus on smaller wavelengths with sharper contrast.

The color of the lens is tailor-made for certain sports. The amber lens, used for sports with fast-moving balls such as baseball and tennis, augments colors in the blue-green spectrum, such as the red seams of a baseball or a yellow tennis ball.

“[The lenses] really make the background drop out. Things in the foreground really come to the fore,” Mr. Constantino says. “When I tried them … for the first time, I had the opportunity to use them at a batting cage. I can’t usually hit a ball, but with the lenses, I was able to track the ball better.”

The gray-green lens is used when “glare and comfort are the primary concern,” Mr. Constantino says. Boosting the red-green side of the spectrum, the gray-green lens gives more detail to elements such as the contour of a golf course. The gray-green lenses also have been used to block glare in sports ranging from bass fishing to cross-country skiing.

“The advantages [over wearing glasses] … are that you don’t have fogging or scratches on the lens,” Mr. Constantino says. “There’s no sweating behind the lens, there’s no nosepiece or frame obstruction blocking the field of view; there’s no slippage, either.”

The MaxSight lens, released in June 2005, was tested over the course of seven seasons by Oregon’s Pacific University baseball team and Dr. Graham Ericson, vice chairman of the American Optometric Association’s Sports Vision section.

The lenses were so popular that “we had trouble getting the lenses away,” Dr. Ericson says. “The people who had been playing six months [with the lens] and liked [them] didn’t want to give them away, and the people who hadn’t had the lenses really wanted them.”

Dr. Jack Gardner, head physician at Gardner Eye Care in Chicago and chairman of the Sports Vision section, agrees: “It’s about eight out of 10 [wearers] that say, ‘I like this product.’”

Christina de Vries, goalie for the University of Virginia’s women’s soccer team, says she noticed a difference when she used the amber lenses during the 2005 NCAA tournament: “It was about 4 or 5 in the afternoon, and the sun was directly facing me,” she says. “[The lenses] definitely blocked the sun.”

According to Mr. Constantino, hundreds of professional athletes use the MaxSight lens, including Baltimore Oriole Brian Roberts, Cincinnati Red Ken Griffey Jr., golfer Michelle Wie, and members of dozens of NCAA teams, such as the Ohio State and Texas Longhorn football teams. The MaxSight even has reached as far as members of Britain’s Manchester United football team and the U.S. Men’s Soccer team.

But do the disposable lenses, which are replaced monthly and come with price tags ranging from $50 to $60 per pair, really work? John Ciccone, director of communications of the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery in Fairfax, describes the MaxSight as “a mixed bag.”

Mr. Ciccone’s main concern “is that it’s a contact lens, so it’s in contact with the cornea.”

“The individuals must be trained or taught how to use them properly,” he says. “Failure to clean them properly can result in corneal ulcers and a variety of other eye infections.”

While saying that “theoretically” the MaxSight’s promises seemed attainable, Dr. Thomas Steinemann, a corneal specialist at Metro Health Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, and spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, warns consumers to remember that the MaxSight “is a medical device, and it must be worn with caution and exercising responsibility.”

Because 80 percent of the market for the lenses is people who don’t need vision correction and therefore are not familiar with proper lens usage, Dr. Steinemann urges wearers to “take care of the lenses and [exercise] common sense,” such as washing one’s hands before removal or insertion and never trading lenses with someone else.

“It sounds silly,” Dr. Steinemann says, “but you’re swapping body fluids, and there is a risk for infection.”

Sean Dash, head trainer of American University’s athletics department, says he thinks the benefits of the MaxSight are too ephemeral to merit consideration.

“We don’t use them … it’s not something that we encourage or discourage athletes to use them,” Mr. Dash says.

Though Mr. Dash says American allows athletes to use the lens after medical approval, he adds that the lack of studies proving the MaxSight’s benefits has kept the university from endorsing the product.

“I haven’t heard anybody say whether it helps their visual acuity,” he says.

Even Ms. de Vries, who first used the lens last fall, had complaints: “Sometimes it was tough to see the ball at certain angles, sometimes it made the ball look orange. I don’t really like to have a different color visually.”

Because of this, she says she uses the lenses rarely, only for the worst playing conditions: “It’s all a matter of what you’re used to. They do help under the sun, and they are better than wearing black makeup under your eyes to deal with the glare.”

Dr. Ericson, a satisfied MaxSight wearer, says the MaxSight’s benefits are “based more on subjective feedback rather than athletic performance.” He adds that “outcomes are very difficult to measure in things like sports because they are so multifaceted in terms of what actually impacts performance.”

Dr. Gardner, on the other hand, can’t dismiss the thrill his patients have had testing the MaxSight: “Almost invariably, you can see the response on their faces. They smile, they think, ‘Wow, this is easier.’”

Still, he says, “There is certainly room for argument whether it will enhance the vision for Player A or for Player B. But for the people it does work for, they are very happy with it.”

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