A Modern History of Contact Lenses
As recently as the 1960s, which may seem like a long time ago to Millenials, but not their Baby Boomer parents, it was common to hear people sigh “I wish I could wear contact lenses.” This was because the contacts of the day were but of one type – hard lenses. Made of non-porous plastic, they covered the entire cornea. Although they were not gas permeable, they moved when the wearer blinked, allowing tears to not only bathe the eye but deliver oxygen in the process. If fitted properly by an optometrist, they could be worn up to sixteen hours a day, but few were able to shake the feeling that something was in their eye.
The invention of soft contact lenses changed the lives of countless nearsighted individuals who could now cast off their glasses. Made of hydrophilic or “water-loving” hydrogel, they could be inserted and, after a few minutes, forgotten. Comfort came with a price, however. They were more fragile than hard lenses and could tear if not handled gingerly plus they required a bit more care. In the early years, they needed to be heated in a special electrical apparatus, but in later years, could be soaked in disinfecting solution. When sterile, they had to be stored in saline solution, for if left out in the air, they would dry up.
A cross between soft contacts and the original hard lenses, gas permeable lenses let in sufficient oxygen to keep the cornea healthy and the wearer comfortable, and were sturdier than soft lenses. In addition, because they were rigid, could be cleaned better. Although they never were accepted by those who had no problem with soft lenses, they were embraced by those with allergies or other conditions that caused soft lens wearers problems, GP lenses eventually replaced hard lenses.
Contact Lens Options for Today’s Wearers
Originally contact lenses could be worn by the near-sighted and the far-sighted, but those with astigmatism were out of luck. They could wear contacts, but the world would look blurry through them. Fortunately, with time and research, that changed too. Today those with astigmatism, a condition in which different meridians of the eye have varying degrees of nearsightedness or far-sightedness, can wear special toric contact lenses. Toric lenses have different powers along different meridians, and rotate to line up with the meridians of the eye needing correction. Toric lenses are available in gas permeable as well as soft material.
The latest on the scene, color contacts, are designed to change the color of the iris. Some subtly change it. Some give it a new color. Still others startle during Halloween, suggesting vampire or cat eyes. Whether prescription or non-prescription, color contacts should, like any contact, be fitted by an optometrist.
Join the many satisfied Upper Manhattan contact lens wearers who visit Dr. Charles Gold in Washington Heights for their contact lens exams. Call Broadway Vision Center at 170th.