Because October is Contact Lens Safety Month, Tidbits is offering up facts and history on these little visual aids.

  • Along with an early concept of a helicopter, water-powered mills, and his extensive study of anatomy, Leonardo da Vinci is also credited with the initial concept of contact lenses. In 1508, da Vinci conceived the idea of altering corneal power by submerging the head in a bowl of water or wearing a water-filled glass hemisphere over the eye. About 130 years later, French scientist Rene Descartes tried a glass tube filled with liquid placed in direct contact with the cornea, hence, the term “contact” lenses. Although it seemed to enhance vision to a certain degree, its awkward size and shape prevented the wearer from blinking.
  • In 1887, a German glass-blower named F.E. Muller, who was in the business of making glass eyes, created the first eye covering that could be tolerated by the wearer, and the following year, Swiss ophthalmologist Adolf Fick fitted the first blown-glass contact lens worn over the entire eye, and able to be worn for a few hours.
  • In 1929, glass contact lenses that conformed to the actual shape of an individual eye were invented. With a few years, the development of new plastic materials paved the way to lighter-weight, unbreakable contact lenses. However, the lenses still covered the entire eye, depriving the eye of oxygen, so that they could only be worn for a few hours at a time. In 1948, lenses that only covered the cornea were developed, extending comfort and wear time.
  • Contacts stay in your eye because they stick to the tear film that covers the front of the eye, as well as by pressure produced by blinking.
  • Soft contact lenses made their debut in 1971, after two Czech chemists sold the rights to their invention to Bausch & Lomb. The FDA issued approval for extended overnight wear contacts in 1981.
  • Conditions such as myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), and astigmatism (errors in the shape of the cornea) are all greatly benefited by contact lenses. These conditions cause vision to be blurred or impaired because light is not properly focused on the retina. The contact lens functions as an aid for picking up light.
  • An estimated 150 million people around the world wear contacts. About 45 million Americans wear contacts, with 65% of that number female. About 8% are under 18, 17% are 18 to 24, and the remainder are 25 and older. Ninety-percent of users wear soft contact lenses.
  • In October of 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson made history by becoming the first U.S. President to appear in public wearing contact lenses.
  • Colored contact lenses can completely cover the eye’s iris, radically changing eye color. Others are lightly tinted, making the user’s natural eye color more vivid
  • Proper care of contact lenses is imperative to avoid serious eye infections. Anywhere between 40% and 90% of wearers don’t follow the care instructions, leading to upwards of one million doctor and hospital visits per year in the U.S., at a cost of $175 million. Infections that can lead to blindness affect 1 out every 500 users every year.
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