The practicality and convenience of contact lenses have been around for some time. Many people all over the world have been using contact lenses as part of their daily lives, whether for corrective, aesthetic or therapeutic purposes. There have also been major developments that have made contact lenses so popular and widely available. But do you know how contact lenses started? How they evolved?
One of the early proponents of the “possibility” of contact lenses was Leonardo da Vinci as early as 1508. Even Rene Descartes, in 1636 suggested another idea on how to correct vision. A glass tube filled with liquid was placed directly onto the cornea while on the other end of the tube, a clear glass protrusion will serve to correct vision. This was rather impractical because blinking is impossible, much less you can’t walk around carrying a glass tube filled with liquid. From Rene’s idea, Thomas Young was able to construct a much smaller version using glass tubes and a microscopic lens and used it to correct his own vision. It was English astronomer John Herschel’s idea and proposition, that for these corrective measures to take place, these glass tubes should at least fit and conform to the wearer’s eye surface.
Around 40 years later, German glassblower F. E. Muller accomplished the first eye covering to be seen through and tolerated. The breakthrough came from German physiologist Adolf Eugen Fick who was able to create sclera shells from heavyblown glass which he tested on himself and other volunteers. The end result was contact lenses 18 - 21mm in diameter and can be tolerated for a few hours. For many years, the world only had hard glass “contact lenses” to work with. It all changed in 1936 when the first plastic contact lenses were introduced by William Feinbloom. The contact lenses were lighter and more convenient.
These PMMA’s were the ancestors of the rigid gas permeables you know now. They have undergone many changes and improvements depending on the design and technology available at that time. Soft hydrogel contact lenses (hydrophilic) were developed by Czech chemists Otto Wichterle and Drahoslav Lim in 1959. It was only approved by the US FDA in 1971. Their comfort, convenience and oxygen permeability became such a hit with majority of the public that they’ve only been improved over the years leading to the most varied brands of contact lenses in the market today.
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