The History of Ophthalmology

Throughout documented history, there is evidence of observation and speculation on the function of the eyes and diseases that plagued vision. During ancient times, much of our understanding of the body was based on superstition and speculation. As our knowledge of anatomy progressed, so did the field of ophthalmology. Take a look at its history:

The Ancient Egyptians

Records describing diseases of the eye and certain remedies date back to ancient Egypt. A document was discovered buried with an Egyptian mummy that described eye diseases and remedies of the times. Eight of the 110 columns were dedicated to eye-related conditions and treatment.

The First Cataract Surgeon

An Indian surgeon, Sushruta (600 BCE), is credited with the description of 76 ocular diseases. He developed several ophthalmological instruments and is often referred to as the first cataract surgeon.

Contributions from Ancient Greece

Aristotle introduced the first evidence-based understanding of the structure of the eye; through the dissection of animal eyes, he discovered their three layers. Rufus of Ephesus suggested a fourth layer, or epithelial layer, covering the eye. He also found that the eye has two chambers and documented the differences in the fluids filling those chambers.

The Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, there was still very little understanding of the function of the pupil or the retina, but there were several advances in ophthalmology made during this time. In 1268, Roger Bacon was the first to recommend the use of convex lenses to aid the vision of the elderly; these lenses rested on pages of text to magnify them.

In More Recent History

The first hospital dedicated to ophthalmology was built in 1805 in London, England. Sir Stewart Duke Elder founded the Institute of Ophthalmology, known today as the Moorfields Eye Hospital. In the late 19th century, Ernst Abbe developed optical instruments used in ophthalmology, and in 1851, Hermann von Helmholtz invented the ophthalmoscope.

The field of ophthalmology significantly expanded during the 20th century. Cataract, pediatrics, glaucoma, corneal and ophthalmologic oncology flourished among the many subspecialties. As technology and the knowledge of anatomy continue to develop, so too will the field of ophthalmology.

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