MANATEE -- The Manatee County manufacturers of a new product called the SimplyTouch eyedropper say their invention could revolutionize the sometimes tricky process of squeezing eye drops into blinking eyes.
Bradenton ophthalmologist Dr. Harris Silverman of The Eye Associates, had the idea for the eyedropper two years ago. He teamed with Doug Mansfield, president of Manatee County-based Sarasota Precision Engineering, who began making it in 2013.
The SimplyTouch is a hand-held plastic device with a soft, rubbery end that looks like a miniature oar.
The rubbery end is actually thermal plastic that, because of its molecular structure, can take a single drop of liquid squeezed from a bottle and hold onto it like a fly on flypaper, Mansfield said.
Users can even turn the eyedropper sideways, upside down or even shake it a bit and the drop won't come off, Mansfield said.
"No one has ever thought of using a high energy surface for something like this," said Mansfield whose plastic injection molding company at 2305 72nd Ave. E., one block south of Whitfield Avenue, is best known for serving the injection mold needs of nearby Eaton Aerospace.
This means users can put one drop on the applicator, look straight ahead into a mirror and slowly bring the soft oar right into the bottom of the eye where the drop releases when the surface tension is broken.
Silverman met Mansfield years ago through their mutual charitable support of the blind, including the not-for-profit Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto.
"I believed there had to be a better way to apply eye drops than the traditional 'lean back, open eye, squeeze bottle and hope you don't miss,'" said Silverman who went to his buddy for advice.
The science behind SimplyTouch involves how molecules attract and don't attract, Mansfield said.
Most all liquid eye drops are water-based, which means they flow onto most things.
But the hydrogen in the water of eye drops is more attracted to the surface of the SimplyTouch than it is to the oxygen molecules in that water that make it flow, Mansfield said.
"The only way the drop will come off is if you break the surface tension by touching it to something," Mansfield said.
There have been 5,000 SimplyTouch devices sold since November. That's not a lot when you consider that probably 20 million in the United States suffer from dry eye, Mansfield said.
Mansfield believes the price of the product -- about $10 plus tax and shipping -- is not why sales are slow. Mansfield said ophthalmologists have simply not ordered it in great numbers, perhaps because the effort to explain the product to patients does not equal the small return for each sale.
"To be honest we thought the doctors would want it for their patients," Mansfield added. "With this eyedropper their patients are not missing anymore. The drops that come out of a regular eyedropper can cost five dollars a drop in the case of glaucoma and sometimes they end up on the cheek. Patients don't stay compliant because they run out of drops.
"Of course, Harris (Silverman) has it available for his patients to buy."
Roughly 100 ophthalmologists offices nationwide have ordered the product for their offices, Mansfield said.
Mansfield said he and Silverman do expect SimplyTouch to catch on in a few years.
SimplyTouch is sold at The Eye Associates offices, including 6002 Pointe West Blvd. "B" (941-792-2020), 7230 55th Ave. E. and 7915 U.S. 301, Ellenton.
The device is also sold on Amazon.com and online at simplytouchusa.com.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond