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The History of Ophthalmology

Part 1: The Ancient World

We humans have been developing eye and vision problems as long as we’ve been here on Earth. Aging was the same problem millennia ago that it is today, and there have always been nearsighted and farsighted people, and eye problems like cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration. The beginnings of ophthalmology and optics were back in the ancient world …


Part 2: The Middle Ages: Spectacles

Latin texts which survive from the 14th century mention using a “reading stone” to help old people to read – a magnifying glass rather than spectacles. Most of the reading was done in monasteries and a Dominican monk in Pisa, one Fra Alessandro da Spina, is credited with re-inventing eye glasses, having learned to do it from someone whose name is lost. Alternatively, some say that Marco Polo may have brought the idea back …


Part 3: Anesthesia and Infection

Some form of anesthesia has been used since ancient times, but awareness of bacteria and infection was a Nineteenth Century discovery. These aspects of modern medicine evolved in relation to general surgery and dentistry, as well as ophthalmology. Opium poppies have been used for anesthesia since ancient times in the Middle East …


Part 4: The Nineteenth Century: Seeing the Eye

The 19th century gave us the ophthalmoscope, first called an eye mirror. After a series of ever-closer attempts made by many people, von Helmholtz, a German doctor and physicist, saw the potential of such a tool, devised his own version of it, and began teaching about it. Finally eye doctors could see the inside of a human eye and get a good view of diseases such as glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.


Part 5: The Twentieth Century: Swift Progress

Worldwide discoveries and improvements in the 20th century led to the Wavefront-guided LASIK we know today (Custom LASIK). As with every other aspect of medicine, lasers and computers have opened doors to new procedures, many improvements, and increased safety.


Part 6: What is a Laser?

Lasers are central to current refractive surgery, but they were not at first used for ophthalmology. The first laser was developed at Bell Labs in 1958. The two researchers were working on microwaves and wanted a way to see molecules more clearly. They had no idea their new light would form a multi-billion-dollar industry and revolutionize medicine, dentistry, and many existing industries.were working on microwaves and wanted a way to see molecules more clearly. They had no idea their new light would form a multi-billion-dollar industry and revolutionize medicine, dentistry, and many existing industries.


Part 7: Leading up to LASIK

For 30 years, starting in 1961, an Indian-born IBM researcher named Rangaswamy Srinivasan studied how ultraviolet light acts on organic matter. In the 1980s he began using the pulsed excimer laser and his group discovered that it could etch organic solid materials such as plastics without damaging any surrounding substance. He gave it the name of Ablative Photodecomposition (APD).


Part 8: LASIK Into the Twenty-First Century

Every era considers itself to be up-to-date, and of course, every era is indeed up-to-date for its time. In our 21st century, we are up-to-date also, and consider our modern laser vision correction to be highly sophisticated. No doubt future eras will chuckle and admire themselves for being properly up-to-date, and that’s the way history marches on.

For LASIK treatments as they were FDA-approved in the 1990s, diagnosis was done using a phoropter. The eyes were assessed in the same way as an eye doctor does it for prescribing glasses.


Sources Used

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