Contact lenses are usually supposed to be a modern optical device. It would thus come as a surprise to learn that the first mention of contact lenses was made by the immortal Leonardo da Vinci in 1508. In his treatise “Codex of the Eye” he explained the basic optical principles of utilising a water filled lens which could be placed in contact with the eye.
The invention of the first contact lens, essentially as we know it today, was done by a glass blower and artificial eye maker, F. E. Muller of Wiesbaden in Germany in 1887. Muller was so highly respected for his invention that he was made an honorary Doctor of Medicine.
Hard contact lenses as we know them today, covering only a part of the cornea, were devised by Kevin Tuohy in 1948 in America. Following this revolutionary step many contact lens modifications took place. Perhaps the greatest contributions were by the pioneers of the micro-corneal lenses: Sohnges (Germany), Neill (U.S.A.) and Dickinson (England).
The first reported use of the soft lens was in 1960 by Wichterle and Lim of Czechoslovakia, tested clinically by Dreifus. Subsequently it was improved upon by Bausch & Lomb (Soflens) in America, the Griffen Naturalens in Britain, Weicon of Germany and Sauflon of CLM (London).
The obvious further adaptation of soft lenses would be the making of a lens which would permit permanent use. The pioneers of these lenses were John de Carle of the London-based Global Vision, who in 1975 brought out a permanent wear lens termed the Perma lens. Contact Lens Manufacturing of London also brought out a continuous wear lens. These lenses have become quite popular and many companies in Europe and America are now manufacturing these lenses.
Further research in the field of contact lenses is progressing rapidly. New discoveries include the gas-permeable hard lens (Rx56 of Rynko Laboratories) and the super flexible hard lens. Both are now available in India.
Silicone lenses are being released shortly in the world and will add a further degree of refinement to the soft lens field.
Doubtless, the 1980s will see equally enormous strides in technology, material and sophisticated fitting methods of this masterpiece of micro-optical engineering—the contact lens.