Birth of Contact Lenses
Contact lenses are placed on the transparent front surface of the eye (cornea) to provide clear vision and are kept in place by the suction of the tear layer.
They come in a number of different forms. While the principle was first discovered in 1636, the first practical contact lenses were developed in 1888. These were made of glass and, while they did correct vision, were extremely uncomfortable to wear. In 1938 the first plastic contact lenses, which covered the entire front surface of the eye, were manufactured. They were significantly more comfortable, but prevented the cornea from “breathing”, leading to discomfort and hazy vision after limited wear.
The development by Tuohy in 1948 of smaller rigid plastic design, which covered only a limited surface of the eye, led to more people being able to wear contact lenses successfully. However, this type of lens still restricted the amount of oxygen reaching the central area of the cornea, causing many patients to experience discomfort. A major development occurred in Prague when Professor Otto Wichterle manufactured a contact lens made of a soft material which was being used for breast implants. This material had a major advantage as it allowed the cornea to “breathe” more naturally. In the early seventies a similar but more rigid material was developed.
These two developments have provided a safe and comfortable method for millions to be able to see effectively without spectacles.