It was sometime in middle school when my one of my good friend’s vision began to seem less than acceptable. A quick trip to the eye doctor, and his vision was 20/20. While he was thrilled to have normal eyesight again, his thick rimmed glasses weren’t exactly as cool as they are now.
Fortunately, those bulky eyeglasses only sat atop his nose for a few years before the marvels of medical technology gave him access to contact lenses. But, contacts did come with a bit of a learning curve and a big drawback for those who do not like to stick things in their eyes.
Today, we are a long way from the initial offerings of contact lens technology. Research has taken the industry from small, hard plastic lenses that required a constant flow of lubricating drops (and could pop out when a person blinks), to soft lenses that make it easier for the eye to breathe while being worn.
Here is a brief history of the development and evolution of contact lenses:
First contact lenses made from glass, and covered the entire eye
Contact lenses first made of plastic
Plastic lenses designed to cover just the eye’s cornea
Introduction of soft contact lenses (pushing out the hard lenses)
GP (gas permeable) contact lenses introduced
FDA approval of new soft lenses for extended wear
Overnight wear of GP contact lenses is available
One-day disposable lenses developed
Silicone-hydrogel lenses become available
Advancements make the daily handling of contact lenses less of an inconvenience by allowing people to wear their contacts longer. Even greater than just the length of allowable wear time is the ability to sleep in contact lenses. A simple few drops of rewetting solution in the morning, and the contact lens wearer is ready to take on the day. A pair of contacts can we worn for 30 days straight, and are then discarded for a new pair.
Additional progress has seen the invention of contact lenses that can help alleviate color blindness, address the need for bifocal or progressive lenses, and help with other eye conditions.
These improvements and advancements have been groundbreaking, but we might be on the verge of something considered science fiction. Contacts are now being designed that will have built-in smart technology. This new technology would be able to track a person’s health metrics.
This particular contact lens would have a very small sensor and an antenna that can wirelessly transmit data to other connected devices. Early research is designed to monitor glucose for diabetes. The sensor would measure the amount of glucose in tears, and produce a reading every second. A lens with this kind of technology could immediately alert patients, doctors, or caregivers to abnormal or dangerous glucose levels. Not only could a diabetic’s daily finger prick routine be a thing of the past, but also this technological advance could save lives.
Further advancements could possibly allow detection of how the eye muscles are being used, follow the muscle movements, and adjust the eye focus automatically. This kind of lens could replicate the natural operation of the eye.
Deciding whether or not to allow a lens onto your eyeball that has a sensor and antenna embedded in it could be the new hurdle for lens wearers. However, if time has taught us anything, it’s that there is always someone willing to give it a try.
One other theoretical advancement in contact lenses (actually in the research phase) is the use of infrared technology to improve night vision. As research and development continue to amaze, one can only wonder what new, creative inventions lie ahead. Whether you wear contact lenses or not, it definitely seems like exciting times are to come.
Justin is a contributing author who loves to read and write about the advancements of technology and robotics. When not at work, you can find him conquering Risk and Catan or on an adventure with his wife and kids. Last Father's Day he received a #1 dad shirt, so now that's official.
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