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The History of the Development of Contact Lenses

Contact Lenses: In a world where we wouldn’t be able to see clearly, a lot of our day-to-day activities would be affected. Just imagine your taxi driver can’t see the cars and the pedestrians on the road, and then there’s a high chance you would be in an accident. Or your doctor can’t locate your veins and is just puncturing the injection needle until he gets it right. That would be painful right?

So let’s take a moment to appreciate the people behind the development of contact lenses, which along with prescription eyeglasses, have helped us tremendously.


The first discovery of contact lenses

In 1508 the first-ever idea of the contact lens was created by Leonardo Da Vinci who wrote the book the ‘codex of the eye’. In this book, Da Vinci claimed that if you placed your head in a glass bowl of water your vision would improve miraculously. From this theory, Da Vinci furthered his investigation and created a glass lens with a funnel that poured in water. However, this invention was seen as very impractical at this time and was too modern. However, his research did not go to waste as this furthered the discovery later in time.


Descartes contact lens design

In 1633, Rene Descartes proposed a different method to Da Vinci’s which looks very similar to today’s contact lens. He proposed the idea of a lens that was placed at the end of a water tube and inserted into the cornea of the eye. This idea was a little more advanced as he proposed just putting it on the cornea instead of the whole sclera but was still impractical as the placement of the water tubes would prevent people from blinking.


The creation of Young’s prototype

In 1801, Thomas Young created a prototype from their research of Descartes and adapted this. Young decided to try out Descartes’ design by attaching the water lenses to himself using wax and recording the results along with his experience. He recorded that Descartes’ design blurred his vision rather than helping it and found that his sight could be made better with another pair of lenses. Therefore, Young used both the research of da Vinci and Descartes to encourage the development of a more practical design.


Herschel’s contact lens

In 1823 there was some real advancement in the design and understanding of contact lenses which was led by astronomer John Herschel. Herschel created a much more practical contact lens by proposing fitting and grinding of the lens. He proposed the grinding of the glass lens. So it would comfortably fit in the cornea of the eye as closely as possible, causing less discomfort for the person. To create contact lenses. Herschel proposed the bright idea of using molds to create the perfect lens for that particular eye. Herschel focused greatly on the comfort of the wearers and even proposed a type of gel that would go between the eye and lens to avoid any damage it might cause.


Contact lenses beginning to be used

During the 19th century, the demand for contact lenses increased, people knew of their advantages and were amazed by them. As glass grinding became more advanced and medical amnesia was becoming more accurate. This allowed replications of the eye to be made much safer and more efficient. Contact lens’s usefulness is proven by the glass eye maker Muller. Who created a transparent contact lens and found not only did it improve the wearer’s vision dramatically. But it also proved to protect the eye against any disease. Shows that contact lenses not only make the eye more efficient. But also help keep the eye safe from any dangers that may come towards it.


Introduction of plastic vision

As the 19th century progressed there had become some issues with the original glass contact lenses as they were causing quite a lot of discomfort for patients and causing injuries to the eye. Therefore, in 1936 William Fienbloom created the first plastic contact lens. Switching to plastic meant there was no danger of it damaging the eye and was more lightweight causing much less discomfort. However, contact lenses were still worn covering the whole of the eye and so could only be worn for short periods, until later in the 19th century.


The creation of the corneal lens

The corneal lens was born by accident as an eye technician Kevin Touhy found when the sclera part of the contact lens fell off it was more effective as it only covered the corneal part and allowed the patient to move their eye around and blink with ease due to the reduced surface area.


The modern development of contact lenses

In 1960, the chemists Wichterle and Lim developed hydrophilic contact lenses. Much softer and more flexible material than plastic. Which is much more comfortable for the patient to put in their eyes. Softer contact lenses had many problems with the amount of water content. Which makes them hard to handle and sometimes the quality can be worse.

However, after improvements were made, these soft lenses were introduced all over the United Kingdom. And soon later reached the United States of America and Canada. Which proved to be extremely popular and helped the growth of modern-age contact lenses. This growth led to the development of more advanced contact lenses which were known as extended wear contact lenses. Which allowed you to wear them for a longer period or overnight.


How they dealt with hygiene issues

Eye hygiene is something extremely important in the modern age and so in 1986 gas permeable contact lenses were created. These contacts are made from a firm plastic that transmits oxygen as these contacts do not contain any water. These have been created as they are less likely to transmit bacteria than softer contact lenses absorbed in water.

The creation of disposable soft contact lenses in 1987 has also helped with the hygiene issue. As they allow the user to simply throw them away after their use is up. Meaning no bacteria is transferred from multiple uses. Disposable soft contact lenses are probably the most popular type of contact lens. As they are the most comfortable. But also natural-looking, allowing wearers to enjoy their day-to-day lives without the discomfort of being unable to see efficiently.


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