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Scleral contact lens in case, Stuttgart, Germany, 1936

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Early contact lenses were large, rigid and uncomfortable to wear. Made from blown glass, this contact lens sits over the white portion of the eye, known as the sclera. This example was made in Germany by ophthalmologists Muller Welt. Dr Adolf Müller-Welt (1904-1972) applied for a patent for the blown glass lens in 1928. His improved lenses had a better range of fit, size and strength. They matched the curve of the eye more precisely. This allowed an increased wearing time of up to seven hours. Before this, some wearers could only tolerate lenses for a very short time. They even used cocaine as a local anaesthetic to numb the irritation the lenses caused.

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Glossary: ophthalmology

The branch of medicine dealing with the diseases and surgery of the visual pathways (usually the eyes or the brain).

Glossary: contact lens

Thin lenses of glass or plastic which fit over the cornea and correct vision defects.