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The History of Contact Lenses

The History of Contact Lenses

Most people today take contact lens technology for granted. To understand where we are now with contact lenses, we have to look back at the history. I personally found this fascinating so I thought I would summarize the history into a short article.

1n 1508, the genius Leonardo da Vinci conceptualized contact lenses in his notebook. Not until 1823 did British Astronomer Sir John W. Herschel thought about designing a contact lens that would match the shape of the eye’s surface by creating a mold. The first actual manufacture of a contact lens wasn’t until 1888 by Adolf Eugene Fick. The was made of glass and would fit over the entire eye. It had a maximum wearing time of about 2 hours.

In the late 1940’s, Kevin Tuohy discovered the “hard” lens which only covered the cornea instead of the whole eye. Still not a very comfortable lens but those people that were motivated by cosmetic appearance tolerated it for a few hours. In the 1950’s Czech chemists invented the first soft contact lens material. It had certain characteristics of a hard lens but got soft and pliable when wet. Bausch and Lomb bought the rights to this material and in 1972 manufactured the first soft contact lenses in the United States.

As an alternative to the hard lens, in 1978, scientists got the FDA to approve a gas permeable rigid material that was significantly more comfortable, provided excellent visual acuity for patients and improved the oxygen and other nutrients available to the cornea. The older hard lens materials did not allow the eye to breathe very well. More history was made in 1981 when the fist overnight extended wear lens was introduced.

Disposable soft contact lenses were next up in 1987 as the manufacturing process became more streamlined. It wasn’t until 1996 the one-day disposable contact lenses came to market. Many improvements have been made with this type of lens modality. As eye doctors and scientists continue to study the effects of contact lenses on the eyes, they have proven that wearing a contact lens only once and taking a new lens at each wearing is the safest for maintaining eye health.

Today’s contact lenses can be custom fitted for each patient. Both soft and gas permeable contacts can correct vision for patients who have an astigmatism, need bifocals, have diseased eyes or have irregular corneas. They are an excellent alternative to eyeglasses or surgical vision correction, including Lasik. Ask your optometrist if contact lenses are right for you. Our practice on Long Island with four eye doctors specialize in fitting contact lenses. We are happy to help.

So you can see that contact lenses have come a long way since Leonardo da Vinci. He had a vision that led to helping the vision of others.

Dr. Joel Kestenbaum

Optix Family Eyecare – Plainview NY