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Posted on 09-13-2017

The Fascinating History of Contact Lenses

While spectacles, or eyeglasses, have been correcting vision for hundreds of years, people have been spending almost as long trying to find alternative ways to get better eyesight. Early inventors like Rene Descartes and Leonardo da Vinci experimented with the refractive power of water. In the early 1500's, da Vinci thought that he could figure out how to alter vision if it came in contact with the surface of the water. Later on, in 1636, Descartes experimented with placing a glass tube filled with water in direct contact with the cornea. It isn't known how well it improved vision, but it did prevent the patient from blinking! These early experiments didn't yield much success, but they did pave the way for further thinkers.

a contact lens upside down on a woman's finger in Portland

Technological Advances in the Field of Contact Lenses

In the early 1800's, Sir John Herschel came up with the idea of taking a mold of the cornea in order to produce the right shape of the contact lens. Unfortunately, the technology for this method didn't exist yet. In the 1880's, glass production advanced enough to produce very thin wafers of glass. Dr. Adolph Fic produced the first working pair of contact lenses in 1888, but they were relatively heavy and thick, covering the entire eye including the slera. This complete coverage reduced the amount of oxygen that could reach the eye, so they couldn't be worn for more than a few hours at a time.

It wasn't until the 1920's and '30's that plastics were developed that would work to make true contact lenses. These actually conformed to the shape of the eye and were thin enough to make comfortable wearing possible. They were still all scleral lenses, however, until 1948, when an optical technician named Kevin Touhy invented the smaller corneal lens that we use today.

Working towards Comfort

While hard contact lenses were a huge hit in the 1950's and '60's, they were still known to be uncomfortable to wear for more than a few hours. Research continued for a more comfortable experience, and in 1960 a new, softer plastic was invented and the patent acquired by Bosch and Lomb. By 1968, soft contact lenses were classified in the United States as a drug, but they were downgraded to a medical device by 1976. 

Soft contact lens design continues to improve, with more porous designs allowing for lenses that can be worn for days and weeks at a time. These stable lenses that allow more oxygen to be transmitted to the eyes have increased the contact lens market, making them the most popular type of contact lens available.

Looking for New Contact Lenses in Portland and Beaverton?

If you're ready to move up from eyeglasses to contact lenses, our professional team is ready to help you with all of your eye care needs. Visit our offices for contact lenses in Portland and Beaverton today. Contact our office at (503) 297-4183 for an appointment that fits in with your busy lifestyle

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