New eye drops could help millions of people ditch their reading glasses

Dec. 20, 2021
A woman holds her reading glasses while on a video call. New eye drops could help people get rid of reading glasses.
Millions of people who struggle to see text up close could ditch reading glasses after the FDA approved new eye drops. Photo: Getty Images.

An entirely new type of prescription eye drops could help people in their 40s and 50s who want to ditch their reading glasses.

“This is pretty revolutionary because getting rid of reading glasses has been a Holy Grail in ophthalmology for patients who otherwise have good vision. They don’t want to wear glasses,” said Dr. Richard Davidson, a specialist in cataract, cornea and refractive surgery at the UCHealth Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Eye Center.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has for the first time approved eye drops to treat what is formally called presbyopia. For people in their early to mid-40s who suddenly can’t see texts on their phone, menus in dark restaurants, print in books or newspapers or tiny letters on pill bottles, the condition — if not its formal name — is all too familiar.

Nearly all adults eventually will deal with presbyopia or age-related farsightedness. People find that they can see objects in the distance just fine, but up close, their vision gradually worsens.

Until now, the cure for presbyopia has been reading glasses, or for those who already have glasses or contacts, bifocals or progressive lenses (which are also known as no-line bifocals).

“The FDA has never approved anything like this before,” said Davidson, who is a team doctor for the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche, holds an endowed chair in eye care innovation and is a professor of ophthalmology, at the University of Colorado School of Medicine on the the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora.

Davidson already has been receiving calls from patients who are eager to get prescriptions for the new eye drops. Many are making appointments so they can try the drops as soon as possible. Davidson expects the drops to be popular with millions of people across the country.

“This is for people who have otherwise good distance vision,” Davidson said. “The average age when people start needing reading glasses is 42 or 43.”

Allergan, the company that makes the new drops, announced that they became available on Dec. 9. Health experts at the FDA approved the new drops in October, marking the first time that the federal regulatory agency has greenlighted any type of medication for presbyopia, Davidson said.

“There has been a ton of research going on. How can we get rid of the need for reading glasses?” Davidson said.

During the clinical trials for the new drops, Davidson said volunteers who received the medication (as opposed to the placebo) noticed significant improvement in their vision without dealing with any major side effects.

“These new eye drops will make a big difference for people in their 40s and beyond who find they’re needing reading glasses,” Davidson said.

While the eye drops will be excellent for many patients, there are some caveats, Davidson said. People will need to use the drops every day. And, they are not covered by health insurance, so patients who want to stop using reading glasses will have to spend an estimated $80 per month. The drops are expected to work best on people ages 40 to 55.

The medication is called pilocarpine HCI ophthalmic solution 1.25% and the brand name is Vuity.

During the clinical trials, 750 participants, ages 40 to 55, who were already dealing with presbyopia, were randomly divided into two groups. One group received the new medication while the others received a placebo. All participants used one drop per day in each eye.

Allergan researchers found statistically significant improvements in vision and no serious adverse events.

People who are interested in trying the new drops should make an appointment with their eye doctor. To reach the UCHealth Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Eye Center at the Anschutz campus or at other locations throughout the Denver area and in Boulder, call 720-848-2020.

Editor’s note: Dr. Davidson did not work on the clinical trials, has not received research funding from Allergan and has no financial interest in the medication.

About the author

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a proud Colorado native. She attended Colorado College, thanks to a merit scholarship from the Boettcher Foundation, and worked as a park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park during summer breaks from college. She is also a storyteller. She loves getting to know UCHealth patients and providers and sharing their inspiring stories.

Katie spent years working as a journalist at the Rocky Mountain News and was a finalist with a team of reporters for the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of a deadly wildfire in Glenwood Springs in 1994. Katie was the first reporter in the U.S. to track down and interview survivors of the tragic blaze, which left 14 firefighters dead.

She covered an array of beats over the years, including the environment, politics, education and criminal justice. She also loved covering stories in Congress and at the U.S. Supreme Court during a stint as the Rocky’s reporter in Washington, D.C.

Katie then worked as a reporter for an online health news site before joining the UCHealth team in 2017.

Katie and her husband Cyrus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, have three children. The family loves traveling together anywhere from Glacier National Park to Cuba.