The History of Contact Lenses

July 2, 2021
It may seem like something as sophisticated as a contact lens is a relatively new innovation, but believe it or not, the concept of these life-changing little lenses goes back to the days of Leonardo da Vinci. The genius mathematician and inventor hypothesized that it was possible to alter the refractive capabilities of the eye by placing the cornea into a glass filled with water which is, in theory, how contacts correct vision. Although the famous Italian inventor was light years ahead of his time on this one, his ideas were responsible for the successful creation of contact lenses centuries later.
The history of contact lenses is an interesting one, and this article will take you through, from conception to inception.

Contact Lenses: The Early Days

Approximately 150 years after da Vinci’s initial experiments with correcting vision through refractive lenses, came a French philosopher named Rene Descartes. Descartes realized that a lens could be placed directly on the cornea, but much like da Vinci, he was unable to create a practical model for a contact lens.

Over the centuries many inventors and scientists created iterations of a lens that could be worn for various lengths of time. Initial prototypes included wearing a glass lens over the cornea and sclera, but most people could only wear this for about 30 minutes at a time, and as you could imagine, having glass on the eyeball was a very uncomfortable thing to do.

In the mid-1800’s Sir John Hershel came up with the idea to take a mold of each person’s eyes to create a lens that would curve and sit more comfortably. He also proposed using a gel to avoid damaging the eye while wearing them.

As time progressed, creating an actual contact lens would become reality due to advancements in the world of glass blowing. Also, because patients were able to be put under medical anesthesia, an accurate replica of their eye was able to be made.

From Then to Now: Modern Day Contacts

Besides the discomfort that came along with glass versions of contact lenses, there was also a need for better material that brought less risk of shattering as well. In the 1930s contact lenses were created with plastic and were much more comfortable and safe for the wearer. These contact lenses were still the early style of contacts that covered the full eye and could only be worn for short periods of time.

The creation of contact lenses that only covered the cornea was created by accident when Kevin Touhy, an Optometrist in England, sanded down a plastic lense much smaller than he meant to. This left him with only enough lens to cover the cornea. He decided to try wearing it and was surprised when he realized that this small version was able to remain in place.

All these advancements, trials and errors over the years are responsible for the versions of contact lenses that we know of and use today, but it wasn’t until sometime in the 1950’s that scientists Otto Wichterle and Drahoslav Lim invented the first soft contacts out of their own product called ‘hydrogel’. 
Fast forward to today and we have the benefits of many different kinds of contact lenses such as:

Getting Contact Lenses Today

If you are wondering if contact lenses are right for you, the team at My Optometrist Calgary will assess and fit you with the most suitable lenses to correct your vision and suit your lifestyle. With three convenient locations to serve you in NE Calgary, SE Calgary and Three Hills, our experienced team of eye care professionals will take care of all your contact lens needs. Contact us today by filling out the form below.


How do I know if I need contact lenses?
Much like glasses, you will know that you need contact lenses by  noticing if you have:

If you have any of these signs it may mean you need to contact your optometrist and book yourself for a comprehensive eye exam to assess your vision or adjust your prescription.

How do I know if my child is ready for contact lenses?
Many people prefer to wear contact lenses because of the sheer appeal of not having to wear glasses anymore. But it is important to know that contact lenses need to be taken care of properly to maintain proper eye health. Some important things to note before considering contacts for your child are:

If you are thinking about the option of contact lenses for your child, reach out to your Calgary eye doctor to discuss the risks and benefits for you.

Are contact lenses better than glasses?
Whether to choose contact lenses or glasses is a personal decision, but there are some clear benefits to choosing contacts such as:

If you are trying to decide between contact lenses and glasses book a consultation with your Calgary Optometrist to weigh out the pros and cons for your lifestyle.

Category: Contact Lenses

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