Posted by: juliegriffey | January 24, 2011

A Brief History of Contact Lenses

Last weekend an impromptu overnight visit to my parent’s house resulted in me wearing my contact lenses all night. Normally i am vigilant about removing my contacts for overnight disinfection and storage. Surprisingly, though, when I work up, my eyes didn’t feel that bad, and I actually didn’t bother to take them out for the rest of the day.

Wearing my contacts all night is something I could have never done a few generations of contacts ago, which makes me think that contacts must have improved significantly since I started wearing them in the late 1980s.

If we look a bit farther back, we can really see an evolution of the contact lens.  While the concept for the contact lens was first conceived in 1508 by Leonardo di Vinci, (yes, the artist),  it wasn’t until 379 years later that one was actually made and tested.  The first contact lens was made by a German glass blower, and what a comfy one it must have been! Can you imagine if it broke in your eye?

The next major innovation in came in 1936. An American Optometrist, William Feinbloom, came up with the idea of incorporating plastic in a contact lens to make it more comfortable. In his design, the outer diameter of the lens was plastic but around the cornea it was still glass.  It wasn’t until twelve years later that a new contact lens design was created entirely of plastic which improved fit on the eye.

During the late 1950s, Czechoslovakian chemist Otto Wichterle and Dr. Drahoslav Lim experimented with making contact lenses out of hydroxyethyl methacrylate (HEMA), a polymer that had just been invented in 1945. HEMA is an ideal material for contact lenses because it is capable of absorbing from 10 to 600% water relative  to its dry weight.  After researchers found a way to mass produce contact lenses out of the HEMA polymer, contacts were able to be sold to the general public.  In 1971, Basuch & Lomb became the first company to sell contact lenses with the HEMA polymer.

In the past 40 years, contact lens technology has continued to improve as evidenced by my ability to sleep in my contacts.  But we’ll save those details for a future blog entry.

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  1. Reblogged this on Amcon GAZEtte.

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