The road to modern vision correction has been a long one, with several cultures contributing to development along the way. History books reveal that as early as 460BC myopic slaves were sold at a discount - vision defects reduced their value because there was no way to correct it. Early Romans lamented the onset of presbyopia, as it meant they had to depend on their slaves to read to them. Dionysius (who was himself short sighted but denied it) had courtiers who pretended to also be nearsighted so as not to bring attention to him and thereby bring out his wrath (he had the reputation of being a tyrant). There is even speculation around the Emperor Nero, who held a huge emerald up to his eye as he watched the gladiators fight. However no one knows if this was the first beginnings of sunglasses or if Nero simply wanted to show off his wealth. It may also have been to disguise the color of blood during these battles as it was well known that he abhorred the sight of it.
Around 1000AD the first formal vision aid appeared in the form called a reading stone - a glass sphere that could be laid against reading material to magnify the letters. It wasn't much more than a magnifying glass, but back then it was big news. Songwriters in the middle ages even composed songs about it, it was considered so spectacular, no pun intended.
But it would take a couple hundred years for to man put lenses in front of the eyes to correct vision problems. This credit may go to the Chinese, as Marco Polo recorded seeing them with framed lenses which were kept on their heads by weighted cords hanging over the ears! But there is also evidence that during this time the Venetians were the first to produce glass that could be held in frames in front of the face and this concept was developed by Roger Bacon in Britain. And there is argument from the Italians, who give credit to Armati who died in 1317 and whose tombstone bears the inscription 'the inventor of spectacles.' We will likely never know who was first. This was best stated in 1946 by Vasco Ronchi when he said "Much has been written...about the invention of eyeglasses; but when it is all summed up, the fact remains that this world has found lenses on its nose without knowing whom to thank."
By 1629 in London, most opticians were members of what was called The Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers, and attempts were made to maintain quality control as well as to protect the interests of its members.
By the 1700's, glasses were purchased by gentry whether they needed them or not because they were considered a sign of intelligence and refinement. Lower classes were not permitted to wear glasses in public, even if they could afford them. Glasses were so valuable that they were bequeathed separately in the wills of the upper classes.
By the early 1950's the first set of contact lenses appeared. They were made of glass, rigid and difficult for many eyes to become accustomed. Technology lent a helping hand with the advent of new plastics (for both contacts and glasses) and we began to see an evolution of softer versions of contacts that were not only easier to get used to, but could be worn longer each day.
But the consumer was not yet content. We began to complain about the fuss involved with contacts. Some of us became intolerant to either the solutions or the contacts themselves. Glasses remained low on our preferred list of options and perhaps this was what inspired research on surgical correction to obtain good eyesight.
The most commonly known procedure was RK or Radial Keratotomy - a surgical operation to improve myopia (nearsightedness) by changing the curve of the cornea over the pupil. The surgeon made several deep incisions in the cornea in a radial or spoke-like pattern.
Over the years, thousands of people had RK and many were very pleased with their outcome. But RK had some inherent problems and it never did become acceptable to treat higher degrees of nearsightedness with this procedure. Treating hyperopia (farsightedness) to any satisfactory degree was also not an option for this procedure.
Then, in the early 1980's technology again proved to be the catalyst for the improvements consumers were seeking. Laser technology appeared on the scene! PRK uses a computer-guided laser to precisely sculpt the surface of the cornea. Nearly 15 years later - after much research, testing and refining of techniques - most consumers now have a safe, practical option to correct vision problems that include not only myopia and astigmatism, but hyperopia as well. Just in time for the aging baby boomers who are discovering new levels of frustration with bifocals, trifocals and long term contact lens wear!
Of course, this procedure is not for everybody. To find out if you may be a candidate, be sure to take the quiz in the Is PRK for Me? Section. And do consult with your eye doctor! The information presented here is for information purposes only. It does not replace professional advice and diagnostics.
It may have taken us over a thousand years to invent glasses, but once that occurred it didn't take long before we were able to progress to contact lenses. Relatively soon followed the development of RK, and the goal to provide permanent vision correction without aids. From this procedure came PRK, and people with a wide range of vision problems now seek this procedure to free themselves from the dependence on either glasses or contact lenses. If you wear glasses or contacts, imagine for a moment what life would be like right now, had these inventions not been made...
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Dr. Murray McFadden Email: M2@prk.com
For detailed information with actual photos of the LASIK procedure, please visit our sister web site www.lasik1.com
(BSc, MD, FRCS(C), Diplomate of the American
Board of Ophthalmology)
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Telephone: (604) 530-3332
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Dr. Murray McFadden
This page last updated on September 29, 2004.
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