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A brief history of optometry

The origins of Optometry goes back a long way and has developed into the highly technical field that it is today. Here is a very brief history of Optometry. Optometry as a discipline traces its roots back roughly 2000 years, to the Greeks. The Greeks worked out the laws of reflection in mirrors but did not fully understand the principles of refraction. They also knew of the crystalline lens in the eye but had no knowledge of the retina and thought that rays of light came from the eyes, a myth that existed until Leonardo da Vinci’s investigation into the physics of light rays led to establishing the role of the retina.

By 1300, Europeans were making spectacles. From this time and up to the beginning of the 16th century spectacles were primitive being made of horn, bone, leather or metal in two pieces and held together by a rivet, these were eventually replaced by one-piece mounts but the problem remained as to how to keep the spectacles on the nose.

history of optometry

Around the turn of the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin invented the bifocal lens, John Dalton described colourblindness, and Thomas Young successfully mapped the normal visual field of humans. The mid-19th century saw the development of sets of trial lenses to determine lens prescriptions, followed closely by the invention of the ophthalmoscope, which allowed optometrists to view the interior of the eye. Cylindrical lenses began being used about the same time that optometry as a term began being used, about 1865. Optometrists eventually began experimenting with contact lenses, and in 1888 the first successful use of corrective vision contact lenses was documented.

The development of spectacles and optical lenses is only one part of the history of optometry. The 19th century saw significant discoveries which led to the rapid development of the science of ophthalmic optics and these would be reflected in the establishment of optometry as a profession in the late 19th century and onwards. It was almost simultaneous that the professions of optometry and ophthalmology came into being, blending together the developments in spectacles and the optics of lenses with visual optics and the physiology of the eye.

Throughout the 20th century the scope of practice of optometry has developed with an increasing emphasis on health care. In 2016, almost 5000 optometrists in general practice were licensed with their regulatory body, the Optometry Board of Australia. Of these, approximately 2300 were registered to prescribe some medicines for the treatment of conditions of the eye.

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