Contact Lens History

Contact Lens History

For a relatively new science, it is surprising that the 15th century thinker Leonardo da Vinci was the one credited for contact lens history, at least in its most rudimentary principle. Described along his journal, the 1508 Codex of the Eye Manual D was a technique of directly altering corneal functions by submerging an open eye in a bowl of water. This however, did not directly approach the correction of impaired vision. The Codex was simply observations based on the accommodation* of the eye and the refracting effects of sight under liquid conditions. Yet, this was an important knowledge where the foundation of the succeeding generations of contact lenses will heavily revolve.

*process by which the eye manages optical muscles to maintain a clear retina image, therefore focusing power.

Later on, a 17th century rationalist René Descartes made several solid attempts to further contact lens history. Heavily influenced by the Codex, his invention was a minute glass tube filled with liquid that is intended to be placed in contact with the cornea. Though it wasn’t clear if his device succeeded or failed in correcting vision, the device did not work out as it was simply too fat for the eyelids to surround, making even blinking impossible.

The mechanism of the eye’s accommodation was further developed by the English thinker Thomas Young. Known best for his contributions in physical optics, he was also the first to consider the use of crystalline lenses. His lenses are liquid filled eyecups which allow the vision to accommodate itself at different distance relative to the changes of the lens’ curvature. Thomas Young’s contribution to contact lenses was greatly appreciated, though, like the original Codex wasn’t inclined to meet the demands of correcting vision.

It was only until 1887 when the German physiologist Adolf Eugen Fick had succeeded in creating what was the first successful in contact lens history. Published in the “Contactbrille”, by most part it already was the modern form of contact lens. This sclera lenses, 18 – 21 millimeters in diameter, are made from brown glass which would rest on the less sensitive rim of tissue around the cornea. The empty spaces in between are filled with grape sugar solution.

This however was still far from the best (if not the most comfortable) in the contact lens history. Fick’s model was heavy; the lens’ bearing on the sclera could only be tolerated for less than an hour. Another German revised the model and came up with his own, a lighter, contoured lens that allowed snugger fit to the sclera thus enabling more time of usage before again it has to be removed to allow the cornea to rest.

Then there was the PMMA. These Perspex-Plexiglas lenses are combination of glass and plastic, allowing smaller and lighter lens. PMMA lens became widespread; sophistication was now added as part of the contact lens history as the barrier for limited contact lens usage was now conquered.

Another recent breakthrough in contact lens history is in 1999 with the silicone hydro-gels, which allowed soft lens which to the delight of some, is perhaps the most comfortable and durable form of lens.