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Contact Lens History

Contact lenses are worn by 120 million people around the world. Many people think that contact lenses are a relatively new development. The truth is observations made by Leonardo da Vinci explained the theory behind the workings of contact lenses. In  1509 he described how the power of the cornea can be changed by sticking one’s face in water. He also theorized that holding a water-filled tube tightly against the eye would result in changes in the cornea’s power. Unfortunately, none of daVinci’s theories could be practically tested with the materials available in his day.

In the late 1800’s German ophthalmologists began experimenting with various versions of glass lenses that were inserted into the eye. Adolph Flick tested his blown-glass shell-like lenses that pressed against the eye to correct corneas that had become cone-shaped – a condition known as Keratocunus. Flick  tested his lenses on the eyes of rabbits. However, during the same time August Muller prepared his glass contact lenses to correct his own myopia. Although his eyesight did improve, he experienced severe pain less than an hour after they were inserted into his eyes.

The first glass contact lenses presented two problems. The technology did not exist in the late 1800’s to produce glass contact lenses nearly as small as today’s contacts. These early glass contact lenses were so large that they even covered part of the whites of the wearer’s eyes! This fact only made the second problem worse. Unlike every other body tissue, eyes actually need to breathe. The cornea of the eye receives oxygen for survival from the atmosphere instead of getting oxygen from the red blood cells like every other body tissue. Since oxygen cannot pass directly through glass, the result is cornea swelling and the associated pain.

These two issues prevented most people from wearing contact lenses. Some estimates indicate that only approximately 500 people around the world actually wore these early glass contact lenses. Even then, they could not be worn more than four hours before the lack of oxygen caused swelling and pain.

In the late 1940’s an optical technician name Kevin Tuohy accidentally discovered that it wasn’t necessary for the contact lenses to cover the white of the eyes. While he was machining a transparent plastic lens (plastic s had been recently developed to replace glass), the lens came loose from the machine and flew off before it was completed. The malformed lens was much smaller than planned. Tuohy wondered if the smaller lens would still work. It wasn’t large enough to cover the whites of the eyes but after polishing the edges of the lenses he tried them in his own eyes. They actually remained in place during use. Because they didn’t cover as much of the eye, oxygen starvation and the associated pain and swelling were minimized.

Tuohy’s discovery was a major step forward for contact lenses. Like all developments problems occurred along the path of refinement. The cornea is extremely sensitive and the first plastic contact lenses caused abrasion of the corneas. In addition, the profile of the lenses had to be refined to keep the contact lenses properly positioned in the eyes.

Even though Tuohy’s discovery enabled wearers to keep their contacts in their eyes longer, it would be almost 25 years before sufficient improvements in materials (breathability) and design would render contact lenses acceptable to the general public.

Otto Wichterle was evaluating hydroxyethyl methacrylate, a soft plastic that is compatible with the moisture requirements of the eye, at the Institue of Macromolecular Research in Czechoslovakia with positive and promising results when he was forced to discontinue his research. Fortunately, he continued his research at home with incredibly crude equipment and perfected a method to spin cast soft contact lenses! Bausch & Lomb bought his patent in 1972 and began producing and marketing moveable, breathable soft lenses. These soft contact lenses now account for approximately 30 % of the contact lenses sold around the world.




Contact Lenses Asheville Inserting Lens Into Eye


When searching for the best deals on contact lenses Asheville contact lens wearers find the contact lenses they want at OneWay Eyeglasses Asheville! To buy their contact lenses Asheville can visit our OneWay Eyeglasses Asheville store, or simply order replacement contact lenses RIGHT HERE anytime - day or night!



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1800 Hendersonville Road - Suite 9

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