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Contact Lenses in Historical Perspective

Tue 8th Sep 2009 - 5:53 pm - Back to Article Selection

Contact lens use in the U.S. has steadily grown as the technology has progressed and people continue to take advantage of improvements in the constantly expanding availability of vision correction options. In an article in the August, 2009 issue of the Contact Lens Spectrum, it is noted that there are over 31 million contact lens wearers in the United States, and this number can be expected to grow as contact lens manufacturers continue to develop new lenses that provide increased moisture and comfort, as well as multiple options for contact lenses with a variety of replacement schedules.

Contacts made from silicone hydrogels, an advanced polymer that offers exceptional comfort, moisture and oxygen flow, are the most popular type of contact lens in the U.S. and the number of people who have chosen the convenience of daily disposable contact lenses is just over 10% and growing.

The well-known scientist, inventor and artist Leonardo da Vinci came up with the first known contact lens concept in 1508; however, it would not be until centuries later that this brilliant idea would come to fruition in the form of a viable vision correction option. In the late 1800s, the first glass contact lens was developed and used in Europe, which began a series of technological advances that transformed this original concept into the comfortable soft contact lenses that so many contact lens wearers enjoy today.

The movement towards plastic contact lenses began in 1936 when American optometrist William Feinbloom introduced a new manufacturing method that included a plastic outer ring placed around the glass central portion of the lens. In 1948, this concept was further refined by two other American opticians. First, optician Kevin Tuohy devised a method for making contact lenses entirely out of hard plastic, which was then closely followed by an improved all-plastic design by optometrist George Butterfield that same year. Two years later, Butterfield improved his own design by introducing a more comfortable contact lens that featured multiple curves for a better fit.

While soft contact lenses began to be developed in 1956, it was not until 1971 that Bausch & Lomb introduced the first soft contact to the U.S. market, which was followed by the U.S. introduction of the first toric soft contact lens in 1978 and FDA approval of the first extended-wear soft contact lens in 1981. During the 1980s and 90s, many technological advances took place, including bifocal daily wear soft contacts, tinted contacts, disposable contact lenses, contact lenses for changing eye color, disposable lenses with UV protection and planned replacement contact lenses.

As the first decade of the new century comes to a close, we are continuing to see constant improvements in contact lens technology, including breakthrough polymers, such as silicone hydrogel, and cutting edge moisture-retention and oxygen flow technologies that have greatly enhanced comfort, moisture, breathability and eye health. As vision correction options continue to expand and contact lens technologies advance, contact lens wearers can look forward to contact lenses that are even more convenient and comfortable.

Disclaimer: The author is not a medical doctor, optician, ophthalmologist or any other medical professional, this article has been compiled using a variety of internet reference sources and while every effort has been made to ensure accuracy this cannot be guaranteed. No preference for product or brand is inferred or intended and the contents of this article are not to be used in whole or in part to inform a decision regarding any aspect of contact lens use.

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