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Contact lenses have a long history. Here it is in brief!

The concept of contact lenses stretches all the way back to Leonardo da Vinci. Five hundred years ago, the great master sketched out ideas for changing the refractive power of the eye by direct contact with water. Later inventors experimented with changing refractive powers by looking through water and glass. It’s now 120 years since German inventors first made an actual contact lens and placed it on an eye. Those first contact lenses, called scleral lenses, were made of glass, and they fit over the sclera or white part of the eye, as well as the cornea.

More than a half-century ago, the modern contact lens — or corneal lens — was born. It was made of a hard plastic (the technical name is PMMA), and it rested upon the tear film on the front of the eye. The smaller size and lighter weight of this corneal contact lens made it far more comfortable than the scleral lens. The next generation of hard lenses appeared in the 1970s with materials that allowed oxygen to flow through them to refresh the eye’s surface and enhance comfort. Today, still newer generations of these oxygen permeable lenses offer clear, stable vision and comfort.

Meanwhile, chemists were cooking up something new and wonderful: HEMA. This water-absorbing polymer was used to make a thin and pliable contact lens that draped over the eye. The “soft contact lens” was born. When soft contact lenses were introduced in this country in 1971, consumers (some of whom had tried hard PMMA lenses but had experienced discomfort) were amazed by their immediate comfort. The contact lens wearing population exploded. Many subsequent innovations drove that growth. The ensuing years saw lenses that can be worn overnight, colored lenses that enhance or even change eye color, as well as new designs that help aging eyes and irregularly shaped eyes to see clearly at all distances. And with manufacturing advances and economies of scale came disposable contact lenses that greatly enhance convenience, comfort and affordability.

Contact lens technology marches on today. In the past decade, we have seen the introduction of silicone-hydrogel lenses that are hyper-oxygen permeable and which resist protein deposits that can lead to discomfort. These lenses can be worn on a daily basis or, in certain cases, left in overnight for up to 30-days continuous wear. Many consumers who considered laser vision correction find that silicone hydrogel lenses are an appealing non-surgical alternative. We’re now on the verge of still another generation of contact lenses that employ “wavelength” laser technology to correct for tiny irregularities or “aberrations” on the corneal surface. These lenses will be custom made, according to a map of one’s own cornea, and they are designed to eliminate troublesome glare and enhance contrast sensitivity to improve overall vision.

Today, virtually any contact lens design — for virtually any vision need — is available in a disposable format. This makes trying contact lenses economical and makes caring for them simple.

Advancing alongside lens designs and materials is lens care. The lens care systems of the early days included heat and hydrogen peroxide disinfection, as well as enzymatic cleaners to remove protein deposits. These methods largely have given way to the simplicity of one-bottle multipurpose care solutions. Some care systems require digital cleaning; others are “no rub” systems. Today, good lens care compliance is a snap — provided you follow the instructions of your eye care professional.

Fortunately, we live in a time when contact lenses deliver an unprecedented level of visual performance and comfort, along with ease of care. Today, contact lenses come closer than ever before to restoring the natural vision and comfort that nature may not have handed us.

© 2007 Contact Lens Council
 » Enjoy the freedom of contact lenses  
 » Contact lenses at a glance
 » For all ages
 » For virtually all vision needs
 » Easy to care for
 » How contact lenses work
 » Types of contact lenses
 » Designs for special vision conditions  
 » Designs for eye color
 » How contact lenses are made
 » History of contact lenses
 » How do I get contact lenses?
 » Where do I get contact lenses?
 » How do I care for contact lenses?
 » How do learn lens care?
 » Can I use makeup with contact lenses?
 » What if my eyes become red or irritated?  
 » Contact lenses are for all ages
 » From tweens to seniors
 » When are contact lenses right for you?
          • How young is too young?
          • Am I a responsible young person?
          • Are there measures of responsibility?
          • Why is proper care so vital?
          • Why wear contact lenses while young?
          • What is the expense of contact lens wear?
          • What are the risks of contact lens wear?
          • Can contact lenses improve sight?
          • What if there's no need for vision correction?  
 » Knowing and doing the right steps
 » 6 easy steps to ensure eye health
 » Why proper lens care is so important
 » Learn the proper steps from the start
 » Multipurpose solutions make lens care simple
 » To rub or not to rub?
 » Follow your recommended schedules
 » Keep your solutions pure
 » Eyes red or irritated?
 » Eye makeup and contact lenses
 » Avoid extending contact lens life
 » Silicone Hydrogel Lenses Gaining Acceptance
 » Silicone Hydrogel Lenses Instead of Laser Vision Correction?  
 » Custom Contact Lenses Redefine Optimal Eyesight
 » Contact Lenses Help Aging Eyes
 » Contact Lens Solutions Simplify Compliance
 » Comfort Drops May Offer Relief and Clearer Vision
 » Options Expanding in Daily Disposables
 » Blocking Out Harmful UV Rays