Contact Lenses: From Da Vinci to Continuous Wear!

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It All Started with Da Vinci…
designer eye framesContact lenses as we know them are a relatively recent phenomenon. However, Leonard Da Vinci pondered ways to alter corneal power back in the early 1500s. The philosopher Descartes developed a sight-enhancing mechanism using a glass tube in 1636. But it wasn't until 1887 that an actual eye covering was made, out of blown glass. The initial contact lenses that came into widespread use – in the mid-1950s to 70s– were "hard” and not permeable. With the development of soft, oxygen permeable lenses, the product's viability really took off. Lenses can now be worn for up to 30 days, and they come in colors, bifocals and disposables. Wearers are in the millions and the industry's revenue is in the billions.
It's not surprising. We look better in contacts. They provide superior vision to prescription eye glasses including better peripheral sight. And, with their advantages for sight (and sight lines) there are practical benefits: they don't fall off while playing sports, they don't steam up or get rain-soaked and they even make operating a camera or binoculars easier.
Hard, Soft and Continuous Wear Contacts
Hard contacts are, as the name suggests, rigid in their permeability. Soft contacts are made from plastic materials that can absorb water. They range from low to high oxygen permeability.
With the advances in permeability has come the popularity of continuous wear contacts, which dispense with the daily cleaning and storing chores. Until fairly recently, continuous wear lens were good up to a maximum of six nights. With technological advances, they are now approved for up to 30 days use. Continuous wear contacts have the added advantage of not having to be removed while bathing or showering. (Though it is advised to keep soap and shampoo out of the eyes and, if swimming, to use goggles.)
Many wearers of contacts lens do it to improve their appearance, and tinted soft contacts arrived on the market in the mid 1980s. Depending on the type, they can enhance an existing eye color, or alter it completely.
Lens Safety
Most people can wear contacts. The exceptions are those prone to frequent eye infections, allergies, manufacturing insufficient tears, and people exposed to dust and chemical fumes. Research is being done on compliance issues as well; people with poor motivation to look after the wear and care of their lenses are not going to have a successful experience with contacts.
Protecting your eyes must always be your paramount concern and there is always the risk of infection or complications. It is essential to get a qualified professional to fit the lenses – and then to follow the instructions that come with that fitting. Avoid the financial temptation to "over-wear” contacts. Replace them according to the schedule laid out by the eye care professional. Replacement frequency will depend on the type of contacts – there are a variety of options from extended wear to disposable. Improper use – especially cleaning – can affect other areas of the eye.
Da Vinci may have had the idea first, but the fast-evolving world of contact lens is a recent phenomenon. With proper care, regular eye examinations, and with the help of an eye care professional, they are a great alternative to prescription eye glasses.