A Look at Eyeglasses
By Awake! correspondent in Britain
ARE you reading this with the aid of eyeglasses? Well, you are by no means alone. Some 60 percent of the British population, for example, now wear eyeglasses, or spectacles, as we call them.
Wearing glasses has thus become so commonplace that if your friends make any comment on them, it is probably because you have changed your style of frames or have decided not to wear them at all. Most of us get so accustomed to our spectacles that we put them on and take them off with hardly a thought—unless they start slipping down our noses or steaming up.
Most eyeglass wearers, though, would probably prefer 20/20 vision to stylish frames. Eyeglasses can be a nuisance. Nevertheless, people with poor eyesight have never had it so good.
Early Vision Aids
Roman emperor Nero, in order to see the gladiatorial games better, is said to have had a lens made from emerald—a rather expensive and inefficient way of improving failing eyesight. In ancient times lenses were similarly made from crystal glass, quartz, amethyst, beryl, and topaz. However, about the year 1268, English monk Roger Bacon described how a segment of a glass sphere could be used as a reading aid. About this same time, the first eyeglasses—frames with crude lenses fitted in them—started to appear.
Who invented them first—the Italians or the Chinese? This is a matter of dispute, as the device appeared to emerge in both lands almost simultaneously. On the one hand, a tomb in Florence, Italy, bears this epitaph: “Here lies Salvino d’Armato of the Armati of Florence. The inventor of spectacles. God forgive him his sins.” No one is sure when he died—1285, 1317, or 1340. On the other hand, the great Italian explorer Marco Polo recalled seeing many people in China wearing eyeglasses when he first arrived there in the late 13th century. Indeed, legend has it that eyeglasses were worn in China from as early as 500 C.E.
At any rate, by the 16th century, the optical trade was flourishing in Venice, as well as Nuremberg and other European centers. Eyeglasses became sought-after ornaments, sold in many cities by street peddlers. But alas, the vendors offered no vision test with their wares. So the buyer may have had his looks improved but not necessarily his sight!
Eyeglasses steadily improved. They were attached to the ears by ribbons or to the nose by means of a spring clip. By the early 18th century, someone came up with the idea of supporting eyeglasses by means of rigid earpieces. This is still the most popular method.
Lens manufacture also improved dramatically. High-grade optical glass eventually replaced transparent crystalline substances. Sir Isaac Newton’s 17th-century experiments with prisms led to an understanding of light refraction. Precision lenses could thus be made with scientific accuracy.
In 1784, American statesman Benjamin Franklin invented an ingenious solution to a problem he had with his eyeglasses. His reading glasses interfered with his distant vision, and those he had for distant vision were not suitable for him to read with. So instead of continually switching two different pairs of eyeglasses, he reasoned, why not combine the two sorts of lenses in one pair of eyeglasses? Thus bifocals were born. However, it was another hundred years before an efficient means of manufacturing them was developed.
Different forms of optical glass are also available to meet specialized needs. Laminated or toughened lenses can be fitted to safety glasses so that workers’ eyes are protected from flying particles. Some lenses are photosensitive: When exposed to bright sunlight, they darken, and when in the shade or indoors, they become clear again. Yet other lenses are plastic, reducing the weight of eyeglasses considerably and allowing people with thick lenses to wear them without discomfort.
Perhaps, though, you are one of the fortunate few who are endowed with perfect sight. Probably not for long.
‘Are you saying that I might have to wear glasses someday?’ you ask. Yes, the odds are that you probably will, even if right now the world is in sharp focus. Why? Well, for one thing, by the time you are 45 years old—or older—you will probably notice the effects of presbyopia. Now, don’t be frightened by that word. All it means is that the lenses in your eyes will not shift focus from close-up to far away as efficiently as they did in your youth. Spectacles are just one of the prices paid in the aging process.
Do your parents wear glasses? Many feel that vision problems are genetic. If so, your having to wear glasses yourself one day may already have been predetermined.
In time, however, age, genes, and habits may take their toll and cause common eye ailments, such as farsightedness (hyperopia), nearsightedness (myopia), astigmatism (an imperfect curvature of the cornea), and squinting (strabismus). If you are afflicted with any of the above, a trip to an eye specialist (such as an optometrist) is in order. Then it is simply a matter of selecting a pair of frames that suits your fancy.—See box.
Caring for Your Spectacles
Eyeglasses can be quite expensive, and you may be dependent upon them to carry out your daily routine. Therefore, look after them properly. When you take them off, never put them down on the lenses. Also, make sure that you do not place them where they could be sat on or stepped on. Eyeglasses tend to get dirty quickly, so the lenses should be polished daily with a soft, dry cloth, and the frames washed in warm, soapy water from time to time. If you have young children who wear eyeglasses, you will probably find that their glasses need to be cleaned more frequently.
What, though, if your glasses go out of adjustment and no longer fit properly? Take them to your optician for repair rather than risk doing the job yourself.
With proper care, you will get good service out of your spectacles. Oh, they may still be a minor nuisance from time to time, but they do improve your vision—and perhaps even your looks. Certainly that’s worth a little nuisance, isn’t it?
[Box on page 22]
Eyeglasses and Fashion
‘Glasses will spoil my looks!’ say many when told that they will have to wear eyeglasses. However, fashion designers have so effectively applied their talents to eyeglass design that a pair of spectacles can be a rather flattering article of adornment.
For one thing, frame manufacturers have taken advantage of new lightweight, durable plastics, making the choice of color and size almost endless. Too, by using high-refractive-index glass, it is possible to make strong-prescription lenses tolerably thin. And when coated with an antireflection film, they become almost invisible.
If you are fashion-conscious, you may choose eyeglass frames as wardrobe accessories. A brochure produced by the Optical Information Council (Britain) recommends that you select frames that will match the shape of your face, accentuating the good features while minimizing those not so good. For example, would you like to slim down your face? Then, says the brochure, choose frames that have color concentrated on the bridge, fading to clear temples. Do you have close-set eyes? Then choose frames with a clear bridge and color concentrated at the outer edges. Try on different styles, and study the different effects. You may find that it helps to take along a good friend who can be relied upon to give an honest opinion.
If you find eyeglasses too bothersome, consider contact lenses. They may be comfortably worn all day by many people.