Contact lenses are small plastic or glass lenses placed directly on the eye to correct vision.
Leonardo da Vinci is credited with the idea of contact lenses. However, it took until 1888 for German physiologist Adolf Fick to design and fit the first successful contact lens. Fick’s lenses were large, fitting over the entire eye. They were made of brown glass, and could only be worn for a few hours. Lenses like this were useful for treating certain eye conditions.
Glass-blown lenses were the only form of contact lens until the 1930s. The development of acrylic plastic allowed the manufacture of hard plastic lenses, which were much lighter than glass ones.
Contact lenses remained large, sitting over the entire eye, until smaller and lighter ‘corneal’ lenses were developed in 1949. They only sat on the cornea rather than across the whole eye, which meant they could be worn for longer.
In 1959 two Czech chemists developed a special soft plastic known as a hydrogel. This led to soft contact lenses during the 1960s.
While many people wore contact lenses rather than glasses, certain eye conditions can only be treated with contact lenses. However, contact lenses themselves can cause some eye conditions if they are over-used or not cleaned properly.
N Efron and R M Pearson, ‘Centenary Celebration of Fick's Eine Contactbrille’ Arch Ophthalmol., 106 (1988), pp 1370-1377
R Heitz et al, The history of contact lenses (Oostende: J.P. Wayenborgh, c2003)
C Fryer, ‘The birth of modern contact lenses’ Ophthalmic Antiques International Collectors Club, 63, pp 11-12
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