By Chris_P

‘19th Century Inventions - Contact Lenses’

I have been very short sighted since childhood and first tried contact lenses - very unsuccessfully - nearly 50 years ago. The lenses were rigid in construction, covered a large part of the eye and - after just a few hours - almost unbearably uncomfortable! They also needed careful maintenance - including daily steam cleaning in a special contraption that came with them!

The lenses I was offered at that time bore a considerable resemblance to the rigid lenses developed in 1888, by Swiss optometrist Adolf Eugen Fick (1852-1937). Fick designed what were the first usable contact lenses - though Leonado da Vinci is credited with the first conceptualisation, one that involved wearing a water-filled glass hemisphere over the eye! Could have been fun! 

Like mine, Fick’s lenses also were also large but made out of thin glass rather than plastic (ouch!). He first experimented fitting them on rabbits, using plaster casts of human eyes taken from cadavers to make his moulds. He later tested his lenses on himself, before fitting six patients with them. 

Unfortunately, he also found that they irritated the eyes and were extremely uncomfortable, so he could only wear them for a few hours a day.

My lenses, though made of a type of plastic rather than thin glass (fortunately!) must have been amongst the last of the rigid ones. By the mid 1970s much more comfortable soft contact lenses -  covering a much smaller area of the eye - were becoming more common.

The lenses I have today are very different to the ones  tried all those years ago - they are soft, comfortable and disposable on a daily basis. They also correct not only my short sightedness, but also - at least to some degree - my longsightedness. They do this by a clever use of multiple focal points within the lens itself that the brain is quickly trained to recognise and use!

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