Transitions Lenses: The Futon of the Optics World

I once watched a comedian do a funny skit on why Futons suck.  The argument went something along the lines of taking a really uncomfortable couch and turning it into a really uncomfortable bed.  It tried to be two things at once and it wasn’t especially good at either of them.  After 5 years and 2 prescription changes I decided it was time for a change of glasses and an upgrade to my prescription.  My doctor recommended transitions lenses and said they had come a long way in functionality.  For those that haven’t heard of them, transitions lenses switch from “clear” to “dark” and are supposed to act like sunglasses when you go outside.  The receptionist who sold me the glasses (not at the same office I get my exams done) said that they switch back and forth in under a minute and that they were good for people with light colored eyes (like me) because they are more sensitive to the sun.  Since I don’t wear contacts and I really didn’t feel like buying new prescription sunglasses due to the cost, I went for it.  I’d always been curious about them anyway so I figured what the heck.  Here is one of those times when not doing my typical level of research made my realize why I usually do so much research before buying things I will be stuck with for a while.

I’ve had them for about 2 weeks now and I have to say I think they are a complete waste of money.  Here are my reasons why:

  1. The only time they are ever truly clear is when I am at home with the lights off and the doors and blinds shut.  Other than that, even at work where there are no windows, they are slightly dark.  Apparently there is enough UV produced by fluorescent lights for the lenses to respond and start changing color.
  2. They don’t get very dark.  They look dark when I see them in a mirror but they don’t really seem dark from the inside when I wear them.  I don’t really mean dark either.  I suppose what I really mean is that they don’t prevent me from squinting.  My Oakley sunglasses do not seem very dark when I look out through them but I can just about stare at the sun without squinting.  My Oakleys are awesome.  They block so much sunlight but at the same time I can wear my sun glasses at night and still see.  I don’t know how that works.  When my transitions lenses are dark I find myself wishing I had some sunglasses.
  3. They are not polarized.  If you have ever had polarized sunglasses then you understand why I think it sucks that these lenses aren’t polarized.  If you haven’t had polarized sunglasses then you are missing out.  Go get some, they are awesome.
  4. They don’t work inside cars!  The glass in your car contains UV filters so your seats and dash don’t fade and you don’t get skin cancer while commuting to work every day.  However, those are the UV rays that the lenses need to change color so when you get in your car on a bright sunny day, your lenses turn “clear”.  Once again I find myself looking for my sunglasses.  I knew about this before I bought them but I still think it’s stupid.
  5. They don’t change very quickly.  They seem to get darker faster than they get clear.  Maybe it’s because of the ambient UV in my office but it takes almost 10 minutes for my lenses to turn “clear” again.  I have no idea how the receptionist would tell anyone they change in under a minute.  They do, however, get dark in under a minute if I stare at the sun.
  6. They turn dark non-uniformly.  How dark the lenses get is directly proportional to how much UV hits them.  Reflected UV from the ground and trees isn’t much so the lenses don’t get very dark if you are facing away from the sun.  If you stare right into the sun they get very dark.  This, at first, sounds great!  The lenses vary in darkness in proportion to how dark you probably need them.  Having adaptive lenses sounds awesome.  However, what happens when you are not walking directly into or away from the sun?  When I walk to lunch at work the sun is at an angle behind me and slightly to my right.  This has the effect of making the lens on the left get only a little dark and the lens on the right get progressively darker from left to right as part of the lens is hit by the sun and the other part is shadowed by my head.  Not only does this look stupid but it actually makes it harder to see due to the contrast difference and it is distracting.  Similar things happen when I wear a hat.
  7. Normal glasses are not shaped like sun glasses.  This one isn’t any fault of the technology of transitions lenses but isn’t something I thought about until wearing them for a while.  My sun glasses cover a lot more of my face so when the sun is high or to the side, I am still protected by the sun glasses.  My regular glasses, for obvious fashion reasons, are not shaped like sun glasses nor are they as large.  This means that when I am walking with the sun high in the sky the sun is in my eyes since it peeks over the top of my lenses.  Due to the contrast from the bright sun hitting my eyes directly and the dark lenses it’s actually harder to see in some situations.  I continue to wish I had some sun glasses.

If you follow what I am saying you can see why I am relating these lenses to a Futon.  They try to do a lot of things but don’t really excel at any one of them.  I see a lot of people wearing these and I wish someone would tell me what they like about them.  When I can afford a new pair of sun glasses I am going to ditch the transitions and go back to standard clear lenses and once again attain ocular happiness.

On a side note: My vision is getting better!  Apparently it happens as you get older, which is great, at least for a few years until it starts getting worse the other way and I won’t be able to read anything up close.

10 thoughts on “Transitions Lenses: The Futon of the Optics World”

  1. Great post. I didn’t know much about them, now I know to avoid (although I see Lasik in my future).

    My dad had a pair way back in the ’80s. I don’t know if they weren’t UV triggered, or that windshields didn’t have that protection, but they definitely worked in the car. I know this because I distinctly remember that every time we approached a tunnel during our cross country trip, my mother had to quickly hand him his clear glasses because – as you noted – dark to light takes a while. There are quite a few tunnels from NJ to CA, BTW.

    I remember when I could finally get smaller lenses due to high index material, I discovered my peripheral vision was seriously diminished since they covered a narrower field of vision. So I understand why they’d make worse sunglasses (although Oakley E-frames look really cool).

    My current glasses make this even worse. They have really large arms about as thick as my finger, so my peripheral vision is really blocked. While this is annoying while trying to check out babes, it’s downright frustrating while you’re driving and you have to crane your neck to check your blind spot. I won’t be getting them again. Another reason to get Lasik.

  2. I should have looked into them more. A simple search on Photochromic lens on wikipedia provides a lot of the information above plus one additional tidbit I didn’t realize… how dark the glasses can get depends on temperature. They don’t get as dark in hot weather as they do in cold. So, when you are out at the beach on a hot day, you will still wish you had some actual sun glasses.

    I doubt I could ever get Lasik. My prescription isn’t all that stable and it is supposed to remain the same for a while in order for you to qualify. Also, in reading the wiki page about it I stopped when they got to the part of the operation (step 1 actually) where they grab your eyeball with a suction cup and cut a flap into it then fold it back so they can get to the juicy part they want to melt off with the laser. No thank you.

  3. Thanks for the info, I was about to get some photochromatic lenses from a discounted web site. I think I’ll opt for the straight sunglasses instead.

    For dark-to-light transitions, I favor a regular set with snap-on magnetic shades. The shades are polarized; they are pretty good except that I’ve yet to find a place where I can purchase replacements shades. It seems like they are sold one-to-one with the frames. Too bad if you ever lose them.

    As for lasik, I’ll pass. I just recently discovered that one of my eyes is perfectly capable of doing the far-sighted thing while the other is near-sighted. So I can do both close up and far away. Just not in 3-D.

  4. I used to have a pair of those magnetic sunglasses and I liked them. I am not sure why I ever stopped using them. They were pretty convenient and fit easily in my pocket and didn’t look half bad.

  5. Save this for a rainy day. Get some snacks. This is going to be long and ugly.

    I had Lasik as a “gift” when I turned 30. Because of my ungodly awful eyesight, I was offered the option where you get one “far focused” eye and one “near focused” so that I’ll never need reading glasses because after surgery my left eye’s natural focal point is now about 8 inches in front of my face.
    In case you are wondering, there was no learning time with these two focal points. The brain just instanly knows what to do with the images you see. Although I do tend to close my right eye when reading sometimes.

    Lasik. What a horrible experience. Painless my ass.
    OK that’s not quite accurate. You can’t call it pain… but rather MASSIVE DISCOMFORT. Not unlike waterboarding, it’s painless, but still considered torture.
    First, check to see if your doctor wears glasses himself. That’s something to think about. Then before surgery, take the Valium they offer. Take as many as they will give you. One pill did nothing for me and you NEED to relax since you can’t sleep through the procedure. Also ask if they offer a video recording of your surgery. I didn’t know this was an option until it was over. That would have been cool to have.
    Now about the surgery itself. First, they place an eyelid expander (Clockwork Orange) over one of your eyes, under your eyelids and starts cranking them open. He cranked them way beyond what I thought my lids were capable of, to the point where I was sure they would tear. By now I’m making that face where your teeth are clenched but lips are open and your neck tendons are bulging. I want to blink REAL BAD so I am unconsciously clenching the other one tight to compensate. At some point he numbs your eye with drops. another unpleasant feeling. My eye feels cold and bloated. Then he places this mechanical slicing attachment that suctions itself directly to your eyeball. Yucky. This is what he uses it to make the flap-cut in your eye and then he takes the attachment off. Keep in mind, you can’t NOT watch this happening to you. Then he lifts open the flap he cut with tweezers, and the world suddenly looks like I am underwater without a mask on. Everything is wavy and swaying. Now comes the reason you have to be awake for the procedure… he asks you to stare directly at the laser dot you see above you. The laser knows to only cut when your eye is staring directly at the dot. But here’s the kicker… the view looks like your underwater, remember?! So the dot appears to be constantly wiggling around. The laser keeps starting and stopping because I can’t follow the dot so well. Meanwhile the doctor is berating me for not staring at the dot… it wont work unless you focus on the dot… it will only take longer unless you stare at the dot… and I’m like “do you think I WANT to keep doing this all day, asshole? I’m TRYING to stare at the dot!”
    When the laser finally does start cutting, you know it because you can make out the smoke that rises away from your eye. yucky again.
    He does some verifying… and I’m done. He closes the flap and rubs it, flattening out the bubbles (yucky). Then he takes off the lid expander and your eyelids feel like a cartoon joke. Too big and flapping around in the wind.
    YAY YOU ARE DONE. oh wait. That was only one eye. Now for the other side! All that fun over again.
    Who knows. Maybe I’m just a wuss. Maybe my lids are overly small. but still I think it’s a little misleading to sell this as a comfortable procedure.

    Now for the aftermath. I remember being able to see the very next day. It was amazing at first since I went all my life with the visibility of a blind mole. Yes a BLIND mole. They are even worse off than normal unseeing moles. But seriously, I had such bad eyesight before, that I could only recognize people if they were right in front of me, by their silhouette, or by memorizing what clothing they wore that day. If you changed your clothes in the middle of the day, it would throw me off bigtime. I used to piss people off by not saying hello to them as they waved at me from far away.
    Back to the point. My eyesight was definately improved. Trees were no longer just big green blobs. They had leaves! Holy shit! HOWEVER be warned that you get used to it so quickly, that you take it for granted in just a few days. Novelty over.
    But here’s the real bad news. I suffered from a very common side-effect. Dry Eve! Look it up. When I would wake in the morning, my eyeballs would be so dry, that they would attach to the inner eyelid. Instinctively, I would rub them when I woke up, but this turned out to be the worst thing to do. Rubbing the closed eyelids, scratches the eyeball surface, so for the rest of the day it looks like you are seeing the world through a shower door. It takes about three days for the deeper scratches to heal. This happened for a year until I was finally trained to stop rubbing my eyes before I was fully mentally awake and aware realizing what I was doing. I had to just relax to wait for my eyes to lube themselves. After about two years, the dry eye problem faded and only reappears once in a while.
    Good times!

  6. Well, if you are a wuss I am not sure what it makes me. I almost passed out just reading your comment on the actual prodedure. Fortunately for me my prescription is pretty light so I don’t feel the need to go through that. Not that I could. I have a history of passing out when they put drops in my eyes. No one knows why. I assume I am alergic to the drops but every doctor swears there is nothing in them that I could be alergic to.

    Did your final vision end up where they predicted it would?

  7. You can find out if it’s psychological by having the doctor secretly replace the drop solution with water, have him mark it, but mix it with other regular bottles. Try them each out. You get the idea. I mean, you aren’t passing out when you look up in the shower do you? So it’s either process/environment related or….
    However, if it’s the solution that DILUTES your eyes, then it might be related to the yucky feeling of your pupils enlarging. I don’t like that either.

    I get light-headed when I watch live surgery or get blood drawn. This sucks because I’m interested in seeing stuff like this, yet involuntarily I get dizzy. (not quite passing out, but not far off)
    One trick I do is really focus on something you love. Like steak or pizza. Imagine the taste. Ok I’m just going to say it: I dream about boobs. I picture the nurse naked or picture one of my favorite natural-breasted models. I mean I really dwell on it.
    So pretend you aren’t leaning back getting drops anymore… you are leaning back waiting for a chick to sit on your face.

    Yes my vision ended up the way they predicted. It’s still probably worse than yours, but before it was HORRID and I tried to deal with it like it wasn’t a problem. I had panic attacks whenever they made us play baseball in school. The best I could do was put the glove over my face and hope something landed in there.
    That’s also why I played Frisbee so much. It was one of the few “catch” activities, that I could manage. A big round florescent disk.
    Whenever I forget how bad it was, I break out my old glasses I was required to wear while driving… OUCH. It gives me a headache.
    and bonus: reading without glasses will make me seem like a superhero to other elders when I’m old.

  8. Wow. That doesn’t sound all that great. The focusing problem seems like something I would have. But you’re the first to mention those problems. I guess most people are just so grateful their vision is fixed. Hopefully the procedure will get better over time, but I won’t be getting it soon, anyway.

    I’m glad thinking about boobs helps you, but I don’t want to associate eye surgery with something awesome like boobs. I also don’t wan to get an erection in the doctors office (and that may be my last one if I associate scalpels with sex).

  9. Ah, the wonders of modern medicine.

    You did not mention if the insides of your eyeballs felt like there was grit in there, or if your eyelids felt like fine-grade sandpaper.

    And there is a price to pay as you get older. The structure of your eye has been weakened by the surgery, so you may see more issues as you mature. It’s not so much as “let’s do it because the end is near” but more like “make sure your body can last until the end comes.”

    I think there’s more of a chance of science developing force-field technology to change the density of the air in front or your eyes in order to create focused vision, than there is of their perfecting this ghastly lasik procedure. Hey, Geordi LaForge wore glasses in Star Trek. If it’s good enough for the 23rd century, it’s good enough for me.

  10. One other thing about the Transitions lenses: they wear out over time (and by “over time,” I mean the natural lifetime of the lens). I know a few people who’ve complained that they essentially stop working at the outer edges and corners of the lens, so the center will still darken/lighten, while the periphery stays clear. I talked to three different eyeglass places the last time I got glasses and they all swore it didn’t happen, but let’s face it, they’re paid to shill this crap, so it’s not like they’re going to tell you, “By the way, these will stop doing what they’re supposed to at some point. You’ve been warned.”

    Speaking of things not working after a while, I’m told that laser surgery also loses its effect over a roughly ten-year period. So that means going through the unmitigated joy of eye surgery on something that’s way too close to a regular basis for my comfort. Oh, yeah, and there’s the buildup of scar tissue. So I’d imagine that over time you’d go from needing glasses to needing the cane with the marshmallow thingy on the end and really dark glasses. 😛

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