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Evolution of the Contact Lens

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Things to think about during your contact lens fitting at our Overland optical!

Did you ever think about how contact lenses were invented and how they developed over the years? The first pair of contacts were bulky glass lenses – how did they evolve into the tiny thin discs that we all use today? To satisfy your curiosity, our optician at Overland Optical Family Eye Care in Overland, Missouri, put together the following outline:

Contact lenses began as a bowl of water

In the 15th century, Leonardo Da Vinci was investigating different ways to sharpen vision. He put a bowl of water in front of his test subject and instructed him to immerse his face. When he opened his eyes underwater, the man announced that he could see crisper than when out of water. Using that information, Da Vinci began to draft his designs for the first pair of contact lenses.

Approximately 350 years later, the English physicist and astronomer, Sir John Herschel, came up with a practical idea for contacts. Building upon the principles first laid out by Da Vinci, he suggested the idea of taking a mold of the eye. This mold would then be used to shape a corrective lens to rest on the surface of the eye. As brilliant as his idea was, nobody could actually implement it – because no suitable materials existed yet that could sit on the cornea, which is highly sensitive. For the time being, eyeglasses remained the gold standard for vision correction.

The first contacts made of glass

F.A. Mueller, a German glassblower who was also experienced in manufacturing artificial glass eyes produced the first pair of glass contacts. However, because they were rigid – but not rigid gas permeable, they could only be worn for a few hours at a time. The unhealthy, nonporous glass lenses totally blocked oxygen from reaching the cornea. Eyeglasses were a much healthier option.

Progressing to plastic

In 1948, Californian optician Kevin Tuohy designed the first all-plastic contact lenses, finally putting the bulky glass prototypes to their final rest. These plastic lenses only covered the cornea of the eye, instead of the entire eye surface. Also, they were made of a much more flexible material than glass, enhancing the wearing comfort.

High-tech hydrogel

In 1959, a pair of innovative Czech chemists invented hydrophilic (water-loving) hydrogel soft contact lenses. Eventually, this new material led to the first FDA-approved soft contacts in 1971. From that point onwards, contact lenses advanced rapidly.

In 1998, silicone hydrogel contact lenses were created, with a higher oxygen permeability than anything on the market before. Presently, silicone hydrogel contacts have water contents as high as 46%, making them extremely healthy and comfortable. Daily contacts, daily disposables, monthlies, and bi-weekly lenses became available, along with colored contacts to change your look. People were presented with many new ways to see the world without eyeglasses!

Rigid Gas Permeable Contacts – Still Strong 

The rising prevalence and popularity of soft contacts didn’t push hard contact lenses out of the market. At the end of the 1970s, new types of oxygen-permeable contacts materials were engineered for optical correction. Called RGP lenses, many people found them to offer superior comfort and crisper vision. Over time, more silicone was integrated into the polymers used in these lenses, so they became more flexible too.

Specialty Contacts

Now, various types of specialized contact lenses are available to suit almost every vision condition and lifestyle. There are toric lenses for astigmatism, scleral lenses to fit corneal disorders, and bifocal/multifocal contact lenses for people with presbyopia who prefer not to wear reading glasses. If you spend a lot of time going between indoors and outdoors, dynamic photochromic contacts with Transitions lenses will help your eyes adapt to darkness and brightness, and you can wear colored contacts to change or enhance your appearance. Ortho-k lenses, worn while sleeping to correct your vision for daytime, are another type of advanced lenses that are rising in popularity.

To find the best contacts to fit your eyes and life, book an eye exam and contact lens fitting at Overland Optical Family Eye Care with our experienced eye doctor and optician in Overland, Missouri.  

At Overland Optical Family Eye Care, we put your family's needs first. Talk to us about how we can help you maintain healthy vision. Call us today: 314-423-3874 or book an appointment online to see one of our Overland eye doctors.

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